After the more personal testimonies of last week, the beginning of the Prosecution’s case, this week, the Prosecution brought forward more factual evidence. The catching and rather emotional evidence of these first witnesses was replaced by rather factual narratives. Though the media in Lebanon (for instance: Daily Star, Naharnet and al-Akhbar) seem to be following the STL proceedings very closely, the international media seem to have lost their attention, and catching headlines are no longer sought by the Prosecution at this subsequent stage of its presentation of the evidence in court. Also, the Prosecution’s request to have the fifth accused Merhi’s case joined to the current case of Ayyash et al., remains unanswered for the moment, and the Prosecution is expected to withhold its more important evidence until after that decision has been made by the Trial Chamber.
Monday 27th January started with the Prosecution calling its seventh witness, Mr. Khaled Toubaili, on the stand. Mr. Toubaili is a recently retired employee of the Beirut Fire Brigade who was on duty on the relevant day, the assassination of Rafik Hariri on 14 February 2005. On that day, at the time of the attack, the witness was in the barracks, somewhat close to the crime site. The witness decided to leave for the crime site immediately, following the clouds of smoke. He took with him two fire trucks and one ambulance and they were the first to arrive at the crime scene. Along the road in downtown Beirut, all they could see was shattered glass everywhere. The sight was horrifying, with columns of thick, black smoke, and closer to the St. George area burning cars and buildings and a crater where the bomb had exploded. When the witness realized the extent of the damage, he called for reinforcements, requesting the assistance of every single firefighter and every truck that was available in the city. The witness oversaw the ambulances taking the wounded to the American University Hospital in Beirut.
Mr. Toubaili refers extensively to the model of downtown Beirut the Prosecution has built, two models to be exact: one of downtown Beirut prior to the explosion and one of the situation after the explosion. He is further showed several pictures taken from the explosion site that he comments on.
In response to counsel for the Prosecution’s question how this incident relates to other incidents Mr. Toubaili has witnessed during his 38-year experience with the fire brigade, the witness states:
“I swear to God that the explosion that we just saw was different. I saw many incidents. Maybe some are really bad, others not so bad, but until now, after even I left the fire brigade, I cannot forget what happened on that day. Because it was a huge explosion, it was horrifying. So until now it's the only incident that I still remember so strongly.”
The next day, 28th January, the witness resumed his evidence, testifying in response to further questions from Prosecution, the judges, the Legal Representative for the Victims and the Defence.
The next, eighth, witness on the stand was again subjected to protective measures granted by the Chamber, testifying through video link from Beirut under pseudonym PRH-427. This witness is again a relative of one of the victims of the 14 February 2005 attack. Soon after the attack the witness was informed that his brother had been injured during the explosion and that he had been brought to the American University Hospital to be operated on, but his brother passed away during the course of that evening. Similar to the previous witnesses, this witness testifies about the effect this had on himself and his family.
Summaries Read Out in Court
The subsequent day, 29th of January, the Prosecutor read out summaries of witness statements that the Chamber had already admitted into evidence. Rule 155 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence allows the Chamber to accept into evidence written statements signed by witnesses instead of hearing their oral testimony in court. Video footage and pictures were shown and given exhibit numbers.
Summaries of statements of the following witnesses were read out in open court on this day:
- Mr. Sharri: His statement had already been read out in court; this witness had worked in the tunnel providing CCTV to the Prosecution that previously Prosecution expert witness Robyn Fraser testified about.
- Mr. Timothy Jolly: An Australian federal agent with the Australian Federal Police, again testifying in relation to the CCTV footage of the tunnel.
- Mr. Quentin Mugg: A police lieutenant serving the French National Police, again testifying in relation to material used during Robyn Fraser’s testimony.
- Mr. Omar Fayumi: At the time a credit analyst at the HSBC Bank, St. Georges in Beirut, testifying about what he saw on the day of the explosion.
- Mrs. Fatima Qudami: At the time of the explosion, this witness walked alongside the explosion site and sustained injuries as a result thereof.
- Mrs. Lana Ali-Ahmad: She explains that on 14 February 2005 she was in a vehicle that was stopped by the convoy. She then proceeded to follow the convoy in the direction of the St. Georges building, and she testifies about what she saw up to and immediately following the explosion.
- Mr. Majdi Abou-Najem: Whilst visiting his wife at the American University in Beirut, he was a witness of the explosion, and he details what he saw on that particular day and the injuries he sustained.
- Mrs. Nadine Yahya Abou-Najem: Wife of the previous witness; she also testifies about what she saw and experienced that day.
- Mr. Ibrahim Alameddine: His statement details the injuries that he occurred as a result of the explosion, though indicating that he did not witness the explosion itself.
- Mr. Ahmad Nabil Ismail: This witness was head of the photo department at the Al Mustaqbal newspaper, and he describes what happened on the day of the explosion and how the camera footage taken was provided. Several pictures were admitted into evidence in relation to his testimony that were in the newspaper the subsequent day.
- Ms. Helena Habraken: This witness is an analyst for the OTP, and she explains the process behind the adjustment of photographs supplied by witness Ahmad Nabil Ismail of Hariri’s movements on the 26th of January, 2005.
Possible Joinder of the Cases
The Trial Chamber has scheduled a joint hearing on Tuesday 11 February to hear legal submissions from parties in the Ayyash et al. case and the Merhi case, on the possible joinder of these proceedings. As said, the Prosecution is likely to wait for this issue to be settled before bringing forward more relevant evidence.