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A Member Of Hezbollah Found Guilty Of Killing Lebanon's Ex-Prime Minister


Another story now - a United Nations tribunal has given its verdict on a 15-year investigation into who assassinated Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafic al-Hariri. As NPR's Ruth Sherlock reports, the ruling still leaves a lot of questions.


RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: It was 2005 - chaos, cars on fire, a giant hole in the road at the Beirut waterfront. This video posted online captures the moments after the explosion that killed Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafic al-Hariri, and 21 others. The assassination was a turning point in Lebanon's history.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHERLOCK: Massive popular protests followed. They were in opposition to the presence of Syrian troops in the country, who then left.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

SHERLOCK: Hariri had opposed Syria's control over Lebanon. Many believe Syria and its ally, the Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah, were behind his killing. Today, more than 15 years on, a United Nations tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands ruled on four defendants tried in absentia.


DAVID RE: The trial chamber, therefore, finds Salim Jamil Ayyash guilty as a co-perpetrator of count one.

SHERLOCK: The court said the senior member of Hezbollah led the operation to kill Hariri. But it also acquitted three others and said it had no evidence that Hezbollah's leadership or Syria were responsible. So how will this verdict be interpreted in Lebanon, where Hezbollah still plays a major military and political role?

EMILE HOKAYEM: In a way, this verdict allows everyone to interpret it the way he or she wants.

SHERLOCK: This is Emile Hokayem, a Lebanese/Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

HOKAYEM: There is enough that Hezbollah can use to demonstrate its innocence. There is enough that critics of Hezbollah can use to allege that Hezbollah was the perpetrator of the assassination. So it's a verdict, but it's not a conclusive one.

SHERLOCK: There have been fears that the trial could reignite sectarian violence in Lebanon. In fact, those fears have slowed down the cleanup of the massive explosion at Beirut port two weeks ago.

JOHN ASHA’AR: Today, we didn't have enough volunteers to come because everyone was scared.

SHERLOCK: John Asha’ar is one of many Lebanese volunteers helping victims of the explosion that killed 180 people and left thousands homeless. Ultimately, he thinks the trial will have little impact.

ASHA’AR: Nowadays, people don't care, even if it was a prime minister. I don't care. I lost my friends. I lost my parents' friends.

SHERLOCK: With their city devastated and their economy in ruins, Asha'ar says Lebanese have bigger problems now. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RONE'S "NAKT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.