Hariri Tribunal reconstructs murder blast at French base
The first reconstruction of the massive explosion which killed former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut five years ago was conducted at the Captieux Air Base near Bordeaux in France Tuesday, Oct. 19 in the presence of international explosives experts. The experiment was set up by the Office of Danielle Bellemare, Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, in line with its mandate to "identify and prosecute those responsible for the attack."
The controlled explosion involved replicating a blast for the purpose of forensic tests whose results will remain confidential, said the prosecutor's office.
debkafile's counter-terror sources report that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had the reconstruction postponed for more than two months fearing it would trigger an even bigger explosion in Lebanon for real. Hizballah has threatened it would use military force to prevent Lebanese police arresting its security officials or inflame the Lebanese-Israeli border. The suspects are expected to be summoned to appear before the tribunal before the end of the year.
However, after US, French and Lebanese governments saw the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon last week fall flat – contrary to all predictions – and Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah humiliated, Sarkozy decided in consultation with Washington to let the reconstruction, and therefore the tribunal's proceedings, go forward.
The controlled explosion was designed to determine how the suspected bombers, members of Hizballah, rigged the explosives and caused them to detonate. The bomb that went off on Feb. 14, 2005 as Rafiq Hariri's well-guarded convoy drove along a West Beirut thoroughfare was powerful enough to kill the former prime minister and 22 people as well as injuring more than 230.
To simulate the scene of the assassination, a model of the Beirut street was constructed at the Captieux base, armor-plated cars like those used in the convoy five years ago were brought in and deep pits dug, like the ones in which the explosives were planted and bomb cars rigged.
After the experiment, the international experts gathered there collected the debris for forensic testing.
Aware of the reconstruction's potential impact on Lebanese stability, the Prosecutor's office tried to play down its significance with a diplomatic statement: "Neither in its method nor its purpose can the experiment be compared to a crime reconstruction."
However, debkafile's sources do not expect this to calm the rising tensions in Beirut or on the Lebanese-Israeli border – especially since Hizballah's leaders have gone all out to shift the blame for the Hariri murder to Israel away from their own members, swearing their arrest will never be permitted.