On 2, 3 and 4 June two officers of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), both members of the team that was protecting the convoy of Rafik Hariri were called to the stand, testifying under protective measures. Other members of this convoy, who were previously heard by the Tribunal, were all civilian employees/personal bodyguards of Hariri (click here for a summary of their previous testimony).
The first witness, witness PRH357, was a corporal in the ISF; he will be called the ‘corporal’ when other witnesses are referring to him in court. The witness worked in the advance team, which had as a purpose the protection of the convoy of Hariri and to prevent any vehicles from getting closer to the convoy. The witness was inside the convoy and he accompanied Hariri in Lebanon and on one or two occasions to Syria. They used ISF vehicles and Mercedes vehicles; the majority of Hariri’s guards were in Mercedes vehicles. Two weeks before the assassination, Hariri bought a Land Cruiser; the ISF had taken all ISF cars that were given to him, as Hariri had stopped acting as prime minister. At the same time, the explosive experts and all other personnel or military staff securing his protection were taken away, and only eight ISF members remained for his protection. The witness was one of these eight ISF members, which were personally chosen by Hariri. Hariri used to drive his own vehicle, and normally four ISF members were with him in the convoy. The directions that the witness received were coming from the ‘adjutant’, another witness (PRH009) before the STL, who used to receive his information from Hajj Talal, Mohammed Diab or Abu Tareq al Arab.
During the days and weeks before 14 February, Hariri was not at ease as there were threats against him, and they were very careful and afraid. About 15 days before the assassination, Rustom Ghazaleh had visited the Quraitem with a huge convoy and in an unusual fashion, and they threatened Hariri. The Syrian security officers “came down very fiercely, as if they were coming to kill or kidnap Prime Minister Hariri.” The witness heard one of the bodyguards telling that Rustom Ghazaleh had told Hariri “if you make a mistake, we will kidnap your daughter’’. A few weeks before the assassination, the witness made a trip with Hariri to visit the President of Syria.
On 14 February 2005, after Hariri had visited the parliament building, the convoy took the Fosh street, they reached the military base and they drove towards the north; they were told by Hajj Talal to take the Maritime road, and Hajj Talal was very angry and said "Keep your weapon in the hand and put it on fire, because anyone who gets near the convoy, shoot them because the situation is not good." During the movement of the convoy the witness and his colleagues tried as much as possible to keep people away from the convoy.
The witness confirmed that the order in which the convoy travelled that day was first a black Toyota Land Cruiser , followed by four Mercedes vehicles - the second of which was Mr. Hariri's personal car - and at the rear a blue Chevrolet Suburban vehicle which was used as an ambulance. The four ISF officers were in the Land Cruiser, that is the witness (the ‘corporal’), the ‘soldier’, the ‘adjutant’ and the ‘driver’. The witness explained that he thinks the jamming equipment of the other cars in the convoy was working properly as it was causing the alarms of the cars parked in the streets to go off; all cars in the convoy were equipped with wireless equipment to communicate as normal phones would not work. When they reached the St. George area, the witness did not see anything unusual; there was a yellow truck with an old man who had a very heavy metal load and was driving very slowly, and he was told to move to the right. After he parked, the explosion happened. According to the witness, the explosion happened about 40-50 metred behind his vehicle, with his vehicle being pushed forward by the force of the blast from behind. The witness left the car, and saw his colleague the 'adjutant'. The witness described what he saw:
“Right after the explosion, the crime scene was covered by white smoke. Then about ten seconds later, we saw fire and flames. (…) So I saw the colleagues caught on 23 fire, and I ran to the car -- towards the car of the Prime Minister, and I saw that the car was caught on fire and the Prime Minister was not inside the car.” (…) “At first I did not see him inside the car because he was thrown outside the car.” “I saw his body on the floor. I carried him with another rescuer from the rescue teams, and we were -- later on by another military staff, Mahmoud Hallak, so we were three to carry him until we reached the ambulance which took him later on 1 to the hospital.”
The witness tried to help several other victims at the crime scene whilst his feet were bleeding, and only after being questioned by General Hajj at the ISF headquarters he was taken to the hospital.
During cross-examination, Defence counsel Mr Mettraux questioned the witness about the relationship between General Hajj and Hariri. Before Mr Hajj became the head of the ISF, he worked for Hariri. At some stage he was removed from his position in Hariri’s security arrangements because it became apparent that General Hajj was spying on Hariri. The witness heard that he was giving instructions to the Syrian military intelligence. Hajj was the one that ordered the significant reduction of Hariri’s security apparatus from 40 to 8 sometime between December 2004 and January 2005. The reduction had a great effect. The marked police cars and explosives experts were taken away from the team, which provided additional protection. The explosives experts, accompanied by their trained dogs, used to search the routes before the prime minister moved. According to the witness they are the most important part of a convoy and they would have been able to identify several hundred kilos of explosives parked on a truck around the corner. Further, in November 2004 Mr. Hajj cancelled measures to detect threats towards Hariri. In January 2005 the ISF also removed patrol cars from the Phoenicia/St. Georges area where the attack took place.
During cross-examination the witness was further questioned about what happened after the attack. The witness stated that within 15 minutes he saw Mr. Khaled Alywan, accompanying General Hajj, at the crime scene. Mr. Alywan was in the intelligence section of the ISF. Mr. Alywan took the witness’s weapon and the bodyguards of General Hajj put the witness in a car. The witness was brought to the headquarters of the ISF, where he was questioned. Most questions were about Wissam El-Hassan, which the witness found strange as he was an eye-witness of the attack. They didn’t offer the witness any medical assistance, but after thirty minutes of questioning they dropped him close to the American University Hospital. After that the witness went to Quraitem Palace.
The other ISF witness to testify, PRH149 is a companion and colleague of witness PRH357, who also was chosen to be kept in the reduced group of eight persons for the close protection of Hariri. In court he will be referred to as the ‘soldier’. Before the reduction of the apparatus securing Hariri, the witness was assigned to check the itinerary of the prime minister. Together with 18-20 people he used to search the areas for explosives, organised the pass way, posted people and controlled the traffic in those areas. He was in an advance party ahead of the actual convoy. After the reduction of the team, the witness became a member of the protection team in the convoy. Because General Hajj didn’t buy them a military car, Wissam El-Hassan brought them a Land Cruiser. They used to travel in the Mercedes vehicles used by Hariri’s personal civilian bodyguards.
The witness testified that the Maritime route was from a security point of view the best route to take. If you wanted to go to Quraitem Palace, you either have to take Hamra Street or the Maritime route. In Hamra Street there is always a lot of traffic and that’s why the convoy decided to take the Maritime route on 14 February 2005. This witness was one of the four ISF members in the very first car of the convoy (the Land Cruiser). The 'adjutant' gave the orders to take the journey along Foch Street towards the marina and the St. Georges Hotel. The witness said it was a perfectly normal trip and he did not feel anything unusual. The jammers were working for sure, as when they started to move the convoy the radio was intercepted. During cross-examination, the witness told the court that at the moment the convoy passed the St. Georges Hotel, he looked to the right as he was supposed to monitor the right sector. He didn’t see any double-parked cars. He also stated that he didn’t see a Mitsubishi Canter.
When the explosion occurred, it was impossible for the witness to see anything. He noticed that the car’s engine broke down, the glasses were destroyed and the body of the car was dented. The driver lost consciousness and the car continued its way forward for a while until it stopped by the sidewalk. The witness was seated on the right side of the vehicle, right behind the 'adjutant'. After a few minutes he saw the body of Mr. Hariri on the ground. This was approximately ten minutes before Mr. Bahaa arrived. He also saw Mr. Bassel Fuleihan caught on fire. After that the witness brought injured witness PRH076 to the hospital.
Answering questions of the legal representative of the victims Mr Haynes, the witness explained that he stayed approximately one hour at the scene after the bomb detonated. It took about three-quarters of an hour before any emergency services, ambulances and the like turned up, because no one could arrive at the crime scene. The witness was injured, his hands, legs and head were hit. He was in shock.
The next Prosecution's witnesses will be related to the purchase of the canter vehicle, and subsequently some journalists dealing with the false claim of responsibility. The Prosecution hopes to complete this area of evidence in late July or immediately after the recess, then moving to the telecommunications evidence.