Oct 6, 2014

Two members of the Dutch forensic team that investigated the crime scene in August 2005: Anick van de Craats and Jan Kuitert

Dr Anick van de Craats (who testified on 28 August and 1 September 2014) works at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). In 2005 she was working as a forensic explosives scientists at the NFI and she was part of the team that was sent to investigate the crime scene in Beirut following a request of UNIIIC to the Dutch government. The team was tasked to find physical evidence and reconstruct the improvised explosive device (IED) which caused the explosion. One of the tasks of Dr van de Craats was to write the report on behalf of the Dutch forensic team. This team was further composed of six colleagues with forensic police experience.

The team was in Beirut from 11 August until 25 September 2005, that is some six months after the explosion occurred. They checked all vehicles within a specifically defined crime zone, searching for objects outside and underneath the cars. After the cars were searched, they were removed from the crime scene. During the first three weeks the focus was on searching the crime scene; after that the team analysed and sorted all vehicle parts that were collected from the crime scene. They were assisted by other experts in recognising the vehicle parts, including Prosecution witness Mr. Geyer (click here for a summary of his evidence). Dr van de Craats took swabs from some of the items which may have had explosive residue upon them. These swabs were taken in consultation with Dr Murray, another Prosecution witness, and subsequently sent to Northern Ireland for Dr Murray to analyse, whilst separate samples were also examined by the NFI to compare the results.

Dr van de Craats explains that it is important to look at the overall damage at the crime scene, including the damage to the buildings and vehicles, to establish the type of explosion that occurred. The damage to the buildings and vehicles showed that the explosion occurred because of a detonation and had an enormous high velocity, which caused the complete destruction of all material in the near vicinity. This also explains why there is a crater. A detonation also can cause ceilings or walls to be moved, and this type of damage was found at the St. George and Byblos hotels. Further, the horizontal perforations of the vehicles show that there had been a horizontal blast force. Based on this and other characteristics of the crime scene (bent columns at the St. Georges Hotel and a slided wall at the Byblos Hotel) Dr van de Craats concludes that it must have been an explosion above the ground. The movement of asphalt is not conclusive for either an underground or above-ground explosion.

The team also had the opportunity to examine the convoy vehicles, which were retained at the Helou barracks, a guarded police compound; although these vehicles were covered by blue plastic they showed sever rust. The damage to these cars was used to determine their position to the explosion centre. The team compared the remains of the three most damaged vehicles: the black Mercedes 404, the Red Ford and the Mitsubishi Canter. They concluded that the Mitsubishi Canter was the most damaged vehicle, with only small parts being recovered, therefore supporting the hypothesis that this was the bomb-carrying vehicle. Further, the Red Ford could not have contained the IED because the damage to the carcass came from the rear left and thus from the outside the vehicle.

During cross-examination, Mr. Edwards (representing the interests of the accused Badreddine) is confronting the witness with the differences between the position of vehicles at the maps of the crime scene drawn by the Dutch team, and the maps of the Lebanese police (ISF). According to a comparison presented by Mr. Edwards, the difference between the maps show addition and removal of vehicles. Dr van de Craats explains that it is difficult to state if these are real differences, given a lack of a common reference points, and if so, what would be the reason for those differences. Also, she states that these differences do not affect the conclusions of her report. Dr van de Craats further explains that at the time of the investigations they already noted the differences, but “we talked to the UNIIIC investigators and we all accepted the fact that we could only start our crime scene search six months after the explosion occurred, and our task was to record the crime scene at that moment as best as we could.” The Prosecution does not dispute that the convoy vehicles and at least one other vehicle were moved; further, it takes the view that the variations in the maps are “simply map-drawer's perspectives”.

The Dutch forensic team further included a number of police officers with specific crime scene experience, one of them being Jan Kuitert, a (now retired) crime scene investigator from the police with experience in explosives. Jan Kuitert gave evidence on 11 September 2014. He explains that each Dutch team member was assigned 4-5 Lebanese police investigators, and they systematically searched the crime scene; the team inspected and removed over 100 vehicles, and located and photographed numerous car parts.

[screenshot of witness Jan Kuitert]

The overall conclusions of the Dutch report "Forensic investigation of the explosion which occurred on the 14th of February, 2005, in Beirut, Lebanon." of 30 September 2005 are as follows:

(i) Detonation of high explosive “The damage inflicted on the buildings, vehicles, surrounding lamp-posts and other objects in the vicinity of the explosion site demonstrate that a large amount of high explosives was activated and detonated to the left side in front of the main entrance of the St. Georges Hotel on the Rue Minet el Hos' n. This detonation set fire to many vehicles within a distance of 20 to 30 metres of the explosion centre. From the damage pattern it was clear that it was one explosion of a charge of high explosive.”
(ii) The Mitsubishi Canter as bomb vehicle “Regarding the physical evidence recovered, the human remains identified by Dr Ayoub, the HSBC security video, and the damage on vehicles parked on the road, the most likely scenario is that a Mitsubishi Canter van containing the improvised explosive device (IED) was activated when the Hariri convoy of six vehicles drove by. The engine number of this Mitsubishi Canter was found among the debris on the crime scene. This number led to the vehicle registration number and the production date of Mitsubishi Canter van which was manufactured in Japan.
No remains of the constituents of the IED have been found among the debris, apart from the vehicle parts of the Mitsubishi Canter in which the IED was most probably placed. Because of the size of the explosion and the exploded charge this is not unexpected. A few damaged parts of circuit boards have been recovered which may be related to an activation mechanism. However, these circuit boards should first be examined by electronics experts, who might give an indication of the origin and application of these boards.”
(iii) Location of convoy vehicles and bomb vehicle “When the explosive device was activated, the Mitsubishi Canter was parked almost in line with the other parked vehicles along the pavement in front of the St. Georges Hotel with the front of the vehicle facing west. It was not parked fully in line judging from the direction of the explosion force acted on the red Ford vehicle which was most likely parked directly in front of the Mitsubishi. This red Ford vehicle was most severely damaged from the left rear side which means that the Mitsubishi could not have been parked fully in line with the red Ford vehicle.
Of the six convoy vehicles, the black Mercedes numbered 404 was closest to the explosion centre when the IED detonated. The direction of the explosive force on this vehicle was from the right side, meaning it was most likely located alongside the Mitsubishi. From the damage patterns it can be stated that the vehicles 401, 402, and 403, the latter with Hariri and Fuleihan as occupants, had just passed by the Mitsubishi when the explosion occurred. Vehicles 405 and 406 have been damaged most severely at the right front side, meaning that these vehicles had not yet driven by the Mitsubishi at the moment of the detonation.“
(iv) Activation of IED “Regarding the physical evidence presented in this report and the fact that small human remains of an up-to-now unidentified person have been found and no large body parts, such as legs, feet, or underarms, the most likely scenario for the activation of the IED is a suicide bomber. Another only less likely possibility is that of a remotely controlled device. However, no residues of such device have been recovered from the crime scene.”

Mr. Kuitert gives a good explanation of the most important caveat to the conclusions of the report because of possible contamination of the crime scene by stating that “when you carry out an investigation half a year after the incident and even if the crime scene has been under surveillance during that time, you can never be sure that the crime scene is as it was shortly after the explosion.”

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