Aug 13, 2015

More evidence about the claim of responsibility for the bomb attack

On 14-16 July another two witnesses testified before the STL about the allegedly false claim of responsibility. The first witness was an employee of Reuters News Agency and received a telephone call claiming responsibility on the day of the attack. The second witness is Matthew Barrington, an analyst working for the STL Prosecution, who reviewed the tape with video footage from Al-Jazeera of 14 February 2005.

Employee of Reuters in Beirut (14 July)
Witness PRH012, testifying with protective measures, worked for Reuters News Agency in Beirut in February 2005. The day of the assassination the witness was working at her office, and after the explosion occurred, she decided to visit the crime scene with a colleague. They hailed a taxi which took them close to the event, as at the scene of explosion cars were still exploding. There were still flames and people were trying to save the injured and victims.
As soon as the witness heard that the target was Hariri’s convoy, the witness went back to the office and watched the details of the event on the news; then the phone rang. The witness picked up and a man told her to keep quiet and write down a statement, which included the words: “We are El-Nusra-wal-Jihad group in Greater Syria. We announce and claim our responsibility for killing this criminal, Rafik Hariri, this infidel.’’ The caller concluded by saying a Quranic verse. He had an authoritative voice, speaking classic Arabic with an unnatural and unusual accent, exaggerating for example the pronunciation of the J. It wasn’t a Lebanese accent. If the accused Sabra and/or Oneissi will ever appear and speak before the Tribunal, it would be very interesting to compare their accents and/or dialects to the evidence given by this and other witnesses. For the moment, the Prosecution’s indictment reveals that both accused are claimed to be Lebanese citizens born in Beirut.
After receiving the call she immediately went to see her supervisor who told her that they should not give such phone calls any importance because they seem to be unreliable. Reuters did not broadcast or report the news based on the phone call they received. However, after they saw the declaration at Al-Jazeera, they reported the news based on what Al-Jazeera had broadcast. The witness explained that the content was similar, even though the wording was different. The Prosecution tendered the call sequence table of the public phone number of Reuters that was used for the claim of responsibility; 110 calls were made to this phone number on 14 February 2005.
Mr Haynes, the legal representative of the victims, questioned the witness about civilians who were trying to reach the centre of the blast in order to rescue the victims. Mr Mettraux, defence counsel appearing on behalf of the accused Sabra, questioned the witness about the fact that, although they had not informed the Lebanese authorities about this call, she was interrogated about this call by the Lebanese security services. She also further clarified that the man who called Reuters might have called the administration and asked to speak to the editorial desk, and the call had then been transferred to them.

OTP analyst Matthew Barrington (15-16 July)

Mr Matthew Barrington is an analyst working for the Office of the Prosecutor. He has analysed the video footage from Al-Jazeera of 14 February 2005. The purpose of this review was to determine, as far as possible, the times when the events on the tape occurred, and thus (or at least so it seems) the timing of the phone calls with the claim of responsibility. The witness prepared a chart of the timing of the events on the tape.

In cross-examination defence counsel Mr Mettraux challenges the witness' findings as to the timing of the events on the tape. The Defence takes the position that in fact Mr Barrington could not in any way verify the times that he asserts from an analytical point of view. The witness explains that this was an ad hoc task that he was approached with and was asked to complete. He did not know the background or the investigative avenues that were being pursued by the investigative team at the time. The witness further states that he was unaware of the fact that the footage received from Al-Jazeera was only four hours instead of the unabridged twelve hours that the Prosecution had asked for. Further, the witness was confronted with the fact that another analyst of the Prosecution had concluded that "The footage examined did not contain any material which could assist in determining the exact broadcast time of either news of the claim of responsibility or the confessional tape." The witness confirmed that whilst this person was unable to put times on these events, he was able to do so. When further asked about the methods he used in establishing the timing of the events on the tape - using a particular video-clip to estimate the timing of both the claim of responsibility and the confirmation of Hariri's death - the witness confirms that his conclusions are based on quite a few uncertain assumptions.

Aug 12, 2015

Witness Lorenzo Lanzi on the creation of photo-boards of the accused

Mr Lorenzo Lanzi, who gave evidence in court on 14-15 July, is a Swiss national. He is a criminalist at the Geneva police in Switzerland and a former associate forensic expert with the Office of the Prosecution. Mr Lanzi is specialised in forensic imaging, and was asked to create photo-boards which were to include images of the accused Sabra and Oneissi. An investigator of the Prosecution asked Mr Lanzi to create these photo-boards in order to allocate the use of certain telephones to Mr Sabra and to Mr Oneissi. In order to create these photo-boards, Mr Lanzi performed an assessment of various images contained in Lebanese passport application forms. The aim of the assessment was to retrieve images of  Mr Sabra and Mr Oneissi, and to retrieve images of faces of individuals with similar visual characteristics referred to as 'fillers'.

The statement of the witness is tendered into evidence and the witness is cross-examined by defence counsel Mr Courcelle-Labrousse. Mr Lanzi confirms that he was not trained to create photo-boards. At the time of creation he was not aware of the existence of specific forensic rules (from police practice guides for example) on the creation of photo-boards, including that (i) the investigator who is going to show a photo-board to a witness should act in such a way as not to be aware of who is the suspect on the photo-board; (ii) the investigator who is to show the photo-board should not have been involved directly or indirectly in the preparation of such a photo-board; and (iii) the pictures in a photo-board should be presented to the witness in a sequential fashion, that is, one at a time, rather than simultaneously or not all at the same time. The Prosecution confirms that there existed no formal policies on the compilation of photo-boards within its office.

The witness further explains that he chose those individuals whilst trying to avoid including the brothers and relatives for each one of the photo-boards. The Defence however points the witness to various family members (of co-accused) and accused before the STL included in the photo-boards. The witness does not remember out of how many photos he made the selection for the photo-boards or what criteria he exactly used to select faces similar to the accused, as some of the faces show very little similarity.

Hopefully there will soon be more evidence in court about the use of these photo-boards.

Aug 10, 2015

Witness Ben-Jeddo on the 'claim of responsibility' phone calls allegedly coming from the accused

Mr Ghassan Ben-Jeddo (testimony of 8-10 July) was the chief of the Al-Jazeera bureau in Beirut in 2005. The bureau chief was the main liaison point between the headquarters in Doha and the bureau in Beirut. He also was in charge of communicating and liaising with the local authorities and coordinating the work between the correspondents and the employees and staff members in the bureau.

[screenshot of Mr Ben-Jeddo testifying via video-link before the STL]

When the explosion occurred Mr Ben-Jeddo was at the office with the editor and the producer. They heard the explosion very clear. He left the office right away with the film director - because next to the Al-Jazeera office was the residence of deputy Walid Jumblatt - but they saw no trace of the explosion in the vicinity. The smoke was coming from the seaside, so they walked back to the main office in the central part of Beirut. The witness sent the producer and a correspondent to the area and went back to the office. The editor (witness PRH006) answered the first call, with Mr Ben-Jeddo taking over from her. The call came shortly after Al Mustaqbal announced that Hariri had been assassinatedThe witness wrote down what the caller was saying, and he thinks this claim of responsibility was very similar to the text that they received on paper later on. An organisation called ''El-Nusra-wal-Jihad in Greater Syria'' claimed responsibility; the witness had never heard of this organisation and has no evidence of its existence.

This first call was not very clear. The classical Arabic of the caller was poor, and the pronunciation revealed that he was not an Arabic speaker. About the accent of the caller the witness further states:
"Either he was really from the area of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or he could have been from a place where his mother tongue was English but he spoke Arabic as well. It could be something like that. And there was a big difference between the first caller and the other callers. And as I said, it was obvious that he was reading a text or at least this was my impression and his language was not really good."
Following that first call the witness went on air on Al-Jazeera and provided information about the claim of responsibility they had received. The witness did not take the claim of responsibility seriously. "[I]n such a major assassination operation against somebody, when somebody gets in touch with you and speaks bad Arabic and tells you that they claim responsibility for Hariri's assassination and they're speaking a rather fundamentalist language, can I, as an experienced, seasoned journalist, can I conclude from that that this is confirmed a hundred per cent and that I announce it immediately in this way? I don't think this is ethical" Mr Ben-Jeddo said. When they received the tape afterwards, they took it seriously.

After the end of the broadcast Al-Jazeera received a second phone call; the caller was asking them to go to the tree next to the pink building close to the ESCWA building, and retrieve the tape within 15 minutes. This second caller was speaking proper Arabic. His voice was sharp; the witness couldn’t detect an accent, the man could have been Lebanese or from the region, he spoke neither colloquial nor classic Arabic but neutral. It was obvious that the caller was in a public area, there was a little bit of background noise. The technician (witness PRH115) brought the tape to the office. The tape was in an envelope and contained a written statement similar to taped statement . The witness thinks that, as a journalist and bureau chief, his role was to check the authenticity of the tape and then to feed the tape to the headquarters to take the relevant decision. That evening General Jamil El-Sayyed called about the tape and the next day the tape was handed over to him

The video tape with the alleged false claim of responsibility is played in court, and the accompanying letter is read out, containing the following words:
"Here is good news for all Muslims (…) Praise be to God, the banner of support and jihad was held aloft in Greater Syria and, praise be to God, due punishment was meted out to the agent of infidelity in the Land of the Two Holy Places, Rafic Hariri, through a suicide operation carried out by the Mujahid, Ahmad Abu-Adass, who raised the banner of support and jihad in Greater Syria on Monday 14 February 2005 AD, 5 Muharram 1426 AH in Beirut."
The letter further states that it attaches a film of the martyr Ahmad Abu Adass who carried out the operation, and is signed by Abou Hafass El-Chami. The letter and envelope were submitted for finger-print analysis to a national security agency; there were some latent finger-print marks but these did not match the finger-prints of the accused Oneissi, Sabra and Ayyash, whose finger-prints were taken from their passport applications.

After a while the witness received a third call from another person, a third person, who was asking  him why they didn't broadcast the tape. The witness told him that this was a decision that would be taken by the headquarters in Doha. The caller then became rather sharp, and he was threatening Mr Ben-Jeddo. The accent of the third caller was similar to that of the second caller, he had a local accent or from the region. The line was good and there was no background noise during this third call. In the end the headquarters decided to broadcast the tape. The witness is questioned about the exact timing of the various phone calls. Subsequently he’s being shown a list with phone calls received by the Al-Jazeera landline that was used to make the claim of responsibility, although the Prosecution is not taking the position that this list is complete. Some of the phone calls are made from public phone boots.

In cross-examination the Defence further questions the witness about the exact timing of the various phone calls, as his testimony deviates from his previous statements as to when the phone calls took place. Obviously this is important for the Defence, with these phone calls being attributed to two of the accused (Mr Oneissi and Mr Sabra). Also, the witness has previously stated that four telephone calls were received in relation to the false claim of responsibility, which seems inconsistent with the Prosecution’s case.

In addition, the Defence questions the witness about a person called Wissam, who worked from December 2004 for a period of three months for Al-Jazeera to assist in setting up the office. Wissam had been recommended by Ibrahim El-Masri from the Islamist movement Jamaa Islamiya. Defence counsel Mr Mettraux shows the witness records of telephone contacts between Wissam and Rustom Ghazaleh, the Syrian official in Lebanon, and between Rustom Ghazaleh and Ibrahim El-Masri. Phone records also show that Wissam had sent Eid greetings to Khodr Nabah, a friend of Abu Adass and one of the people from a Sunni fundamentalist group called Al-Qaeda 13 who was arrested in the aftermath of the Hariri killing. Under pressure, one of the members of the group confessed to being involved with the assassination, but subsequently retracted that confession. Information accusing Al-Qaeda 13 had come from Al-Ahbash, a pro-Syrian organisation. The witness thinks it might be possible that Wissam was at the office at the day of the bombing and assisted with contacting persons for the talk shows, as this would have been normal. 

Further, the Defence asks the witness about his appointment with General Jamil Sayyed the day after the bombing. General Jamil Sayyed told the witness that initial investigations about Ahmad Abu Adass showed that the latter was growing more and more fundamentalist and religious, that he used to live in Tariq-El-Jdideh (where the Islamist movement Jamaa Islamiya was present), and that he was seen in one of the mosques. According to the witness, Jamaa Islamiya is a moderate religious organisation. The witness also explains that there was a great deal of doubt that a religious group had killed Hariri. Mr Ibrahim El-Masri had described Ahmad Abu Adass “as being a very modest, common person, and somehow naive. And he ruled out the fact that Ahmad Abu Adass had all these capacities and skills and resources to be part of such a massive operation. That's why he considered that Ahmad Abu Adass might have been a guinea pig or a scapegoat.”

Aug 5, 2015

Al-Jazeera witnesses on the claim of responsibility for the bombing

The Prosecution heard the evidence from a number of persons that worked for Al-Jazeera, the news agency that was contacted - purportedly by the accused - in relation to the claim of responsibility for the attack. The indictment provides a detailed account of this allegedly false claim of responsibility for the attack (para. 44):
“ONEISSI and SABRA [..] acted together in disseminating statements falsely attributing responsibility for the attack, ensuring the delivery of the video and ensuring that the video would be broadcast. Starting about 75 minutes after the attack, ONEISSI or SABRA made a total of four calls to the offices of the Reuters and AI-Jazeera news networks in Beirut. All four phone calls were made using the same prepaid Telecard 6162569 from four different public payphones. The sequence of events was as follows: 
a. At about 14:03, MERHI on Purple 231 called SABRA on Purple 018. At about 14:11, ONEISSI or SABRA claimed to Reuters that a fictional fundamentalist group called 'Victory and Jihad in Greater Sy ria' executed the attack.b. At about 14:19, ONEISSI or SABRA uttered into the phone to AI-Jazeera a claim of responsibility from 'Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria', a report of which was broadcast shortly after.c. At about 14:37, MERHI on Purple 231 called SABRA on Purple 018.d. At about 15:27, SABRA called AI-Jazeera and gave information on where to find a videocassette which had been placed in a tree at the ESCW A Square near the AI-Jazeera offices at Shakir Ouayeh building, Beirut. ONEISSI was watching the location to confirm receipt by AI-Jazeera of the videocassette.e. At about 15:50, the videotape was picked up from the tree by an employee of AI-Jazeera. On the video, ABU ADASS claimed responsibility for the attack, that it was in support of 'Mujahidin' in Saudi Arabia, and that further attacks would follow. Attached to the videocassette was a letter in Arabic which stated inter alia that ABU ADASS was the suicide bomber.f. Between 15:53 and 16:02, MERHI on Purple 231 was in contact three times with SABRA on Purple 018, and SABRA on Purple 018 was in contact five times with ONEISSI on Purple 095.g. At about 17:04, ONEISSI or SABRA demanded with menace that AI-Jazeera broadcast the video, which was done shortly after.”

The Al-Jazeera witnesses are: PRH006 ‘the editor’, PRH007 ‘the film director’, PRH115 ‘the technician’, Ghassan Ben-Jeddo (his testimony will be discussed in a separate blog) and PRH430 ‘the producer’.

Witness PRH006: The editor (23-24 June)
This witness used to work as a footage editor in one of Al Jazeera’s offices in Beirut. She gave evidence about the two phone calls that she received at their office following the 14 February 2005 bombing that killed Hariri. These calls were made to a general publicly known telephone line which the public may use to ring into Al-Jazeera; the witness recalls being the person who first picked up the phone on two of those occasions. During the first call a tense male voice asked her to write down a statement he was dictating quickly, and as she was not able to follow up with what he was saying, he threatened to hang up. She gave the phone to her colleague Ghassan Ben-Jeddo, who also started to take notes. The man spoke Arabic, and was trying to speak with a Lebanese accent, but it was very clear that he was not Lebanese. The message on the phone was the same as the message sent to them in written form. The caller said, among others, that they had killed Hariri.

The same person called again, and the witness answered the phone but he asked her to pass the phone to someone who would understand what he was saying and she gave the phone to Mr Ben-Jeddo. Mr Ben-Jeddo told the witness that there was a tape left for them in a well-known tree in Beirut. The film director went there and came back without finding the tape. Mr Ben-Jeddo subsequently asked the technician to go and bring the tape. He had to climb in the tree in order to get the box. The technician brought the tape with him in an envelope; there was also a statement. As soon as he arrived the witness took the tape and they watched it immediately. They contacted the headquarters for Al-Jazeera in Doha - who would make the decision if something should be broadcasted or not - and the content of the tape was transmitted to them. The witness started working on the footage and images, but she heard from her colleagues that further calls were received concerning the claim of responsibility.

The Prosecution showed the witness a document with text messages sent and received by the witness, and asks her about her phone contacts with various colleagues from Al-Jazeera after the bombing. There is also extensive questioning about the exact timing of the events, about which the witness has provided some contradictory statements, and which is possibly contradicting the evidence to be given by other Prosecution witnesses who will testify about the same events. Obviously this is also relevant evidence in relation to the claims made by the Prosecution in the indictment about the exact timing of hte calls made by the accused (see above).

Witness PRH007: The film director (24 June)
In 2005, the witness, a film director, worked for Al-Jazeera Television in Beirut. The Prosecution provides a summary of the witness’ statement that is tendered into evidence:
“On 14th of February 2005, when the explosion occurred, witness 7 was at the Al-Jazeera office in Clemenceau with Mr Ben-Jeddo. (...) Witness 7 was not in the office when the first call to Al-Jazeera, claiming responsibility, was received. (…)  Mr. Ben-Jeddo also told Witness 7 that there was a tape to be collected located in a tree in Riad-El-Solh Square next to a pink painted building. He was told that the person who called to claim responsibility was the person who put the tape in the tree, although Mr. Ben-Jeddo did not mention the name of a group or person claiming responsibility. Witness 7 agreed to collect the tape. Witness 7 went to the tree but was a little afraid that someone might shoot at him. (…) Witness 7 discreetly looked up at the tree and saw a white box high up which had three to five small holes. (…) he went back to tell Mr. Ben-Jeddo that he had seen an empty box. Mr. Ben-Jeddo told him that if they did not get the tape, then those claiming responsibility would give it to another station."
Witness PRH115: The technician (7- 8 July)
The Prosecution again provides a summary of the witness’ statements that are tendered into evidence. In February 2005, the witness was working as a technician at Al-Jazeera. When the explosion took place on 14 February 2005, the witness received a text message from the editor which said that there had been a big explosion. He called her on the office land-line and she explained that there had been an explosion near the office. After this, the witness went into his home and watched the TV where he saw Mr Ben-Jeddo say that Hariri was the possible target. The witness went to the office, and was told that they had received a phone call from someone saying that there was a videotape to be collected and that the film director had gone to collect it but he was not able to find it. The witness went to the location at the Riad Al-Solh Square and there was only one noticeable tree next to the building, he walked around the tree two or three times. When the witness noticed a white box, he had started to worry as there were numerous soldiers in the area. He did not dare to bring the whole box with him, so he left it at the bottom of the tree and he took only the envelope with him back to Al-Jazeera. He gave the envelope with the tape to Mr Ben-Jeddo. After viewing the tape, Mr Ben-Jeddo and the editor told the others present in the office of its content. At this point, Al-Jazeera started broadcasting the news of the tape's existence. The witness also learned that there was a letter accompanying the tape which contained the same message as the video.The tape remained at Al-Jazeera for a couple of days before the security services picked it up. To the knowledge of the witness, there were three calls made to Al-Jazeera regarding the video and the claim of responsibility: the first call was to claim responsibility and to name the group, the second call was about the tape and its location, and the third call was to threaten to hand the tape to another network unless it was broadcast.

The witness was also shown a document containing a series of text messages sent and received by his phone on 14 February 2005, including text messages sent and received from the previous witness (the editor).

[Document with sms content used during the testimony of witness PRH115 – screenshot]

The Defence is questioning the witness about a number of phone calls he made in the weeks before and after the bombing that killed Hariri, as they believe some of the individuals he contacted might have been implicated in the operation to kill Hariri or in the operation to hide the responsibility of those who carried out the attack.

This witness doesn't remember much detail of what happened on 14 February 2015 and had to be taken to his previous statements to recollect the events. More than 10 years have passed since the assassination of Hariri, and this witness, like many other witnesses before this court, had memory difficulties. As the witness explained ‘Today I do not remember. Now the statement is in front of me, I've signed this statement, thus what I said at the time was true.’ This is an additional challenge for the Prosecution and especially the Defence in deducing evidence from witnesses and confronting witnesses with inconsistencies in their evidence.

Witness PRH430: The producer (13 July)
In early 2005 the witness worked in television production for Al-Jazeera in Beirut. After the attack, the witness went to the scene of the blast to direct the cameraman (in the absence of the correspondent) and to point him at what he should be filming; he also went to arrange live coverage from the crime scene with the headquarters in Doha. The witness took the footage back, and once the footage had been transmitted to Doha, he returned to the office. At the office the witness answered the landline, with a man speaking Arabic (an Arabic closer to classical Arabic, not spoken by Lebanese) asking to speak to Ghassan Ben-Jeddo, and the witness immediately handed over the phone to Mr Ben-Jeddo. That was the only call that he answered, and as far as he was aware the tape was at the office and the caller was inquiring why it had not yet been broadcasted. The witness further clarified that this was the third call; according to the Prosecution's theory the witness therefore spoke to either the accused Sabra or the accused Oneissi.