Prosecution, defense squabble over suspected car bomb used in Hariri murder

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Published Thursday, January 23, 2014

Updated 6:00 pm: The prosecution in the murder trial of Lebanon's ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri sought on Thursday to show that a car bomb was used in the 2005 Beirut attack, a point bitterly contested by the defense which argues that explosives were planted below ground.

Grainy footage from three CCTV cameras in the area of the bomb site allege to have captured a Mitsubishi truck driven by a suicide bomber moments before the attack.

Robyn Fraser, who worked as an investigator with the prosecution in The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) from 2009 - 2011, was called to the stand Thursday.

She noted that the footage showed the truck suspected in the attack travelling at about 1/10 the speed of the other vehicles on the road.

Hariri's convoy was captured by one of the cameras travelling in the same direction of the suspected Mitsubishi approximately one minute after bomb laden truck passes.

No footage has been presented of the actual attack. But the prosecution on Thursday appeared to suggest that the Mitsubishi traveled slowly to allow Hariri's convoy to catch up before detonating.

Fraser said that the truck suspected in the attack appears to be the same vehicle captured in all three videos based on height, dimension, shape and other characteristics.

A CCTV still from inside a Beirut tunnel shows a lorry (right) suspected by the prosecution of being used in the attack.

But the defense on Monday challenged the car bomb theory, noting that no camera actually captured the attack at the moment of the explosion.

In a cross examination of the witness, a defense lawyer asked Fraser if she had conducted any type of analysis of the footage to measure the vehicle's height, width, length and weight to determine if it was the same truck in all three videos.

She said that no analysis was done, but that it appeared to be the same vehicle based on what she could see "with the naked eye."

In a report she submitted after completing her investigation several years ago, she noted that the suspected vehicle in the footage had similar hub caps, curves and other features.

The defense asked her if those features were unique to the Mitsubishi model suspected in the attack. She responded in the negative, and agreed that those features are common on many lorries of that class.

The defense then asked her if there were any markings on the vehicle visible in the footage to suggest that the truck was a Mitsubish. She answered: "No."

Fraser conceded to the defense lawyer that she "was not an expert on vehicles" and could not say with complete certainty that it was the same truck in all CCTV footage.

When asked if she could conclusively determine whether or not the vehicle in the footage was carrying explosives or played a role in the explosion that Killed Hariri, she responded: "Based on my observations, no I cannot."

The defense had argued that the missing photos and video footage was cause for suspicion as multiple cameras were believed to have been operating in the area.

The prosecution last week said that between 2.5 to 3 tons of explosives carried by a Mitsubishi truck driven by a suicide bomber was used to carry out the attack.

But the defense is set to argue that a bomb was placed beneath ground and detonated at Hariri's convoy passed.

The February 14 explosion killed 22 people including Hariri. Four Hezbollah member are being tried in absentia over the attack, but the group vehemently denies involvement.

(Al-Akhbar)

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