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    Special tribunal orders release of Hariri suspects

    AFP
    29.04.2009 - 15:33 | Son Güncelleme:

    THE HAGUE - The Special Tribunal for Lebanon ordered Wednesday the release of four generals held for nearly four years without charge over the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. (UPDATED)

    The Special Tribunal for Lebanon ordered Wednesday the release of four generals held for nearly four years without charge over the 2005 assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

     

    "The pre-trial judge orders, unless they are held in another case, the release with immediate effect" of the four generals, judge Daniel Fransen said in a decision broadcast live on Lebanese television and via an Internet webcast.

     

    He granted a request by prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, who had stated in a submission filed Monday that he had no credible evidence on which to hold the men, said the judge.

     

    "The prosecutor considers that the evidence available to him currently is not sufficiently credible to request the detention of those persons.

     

    "Based on that and the fact that these persons are presumed innocent, the prosecutor does not believe there is a need to keep them in detention at this point in the proceedings."

     

    There was no reason to believe that the prosecutors conclusion was wrong, said Fransen, adding that the generals "cannot at this stage of the investigation be considered as either suspects or accused persons.

     

    "As a result ... they do not meet the conditions to be placed in provisional detention."

     

    The four have been detained in Lebanon since 2005, but are legally in the custody of the tribunal since Beirut relinquished its jurisdiction in the Hariri case this month following the official opening of the STL in March.

     

    They are the former head of the presidential guard, Mustafa Hamdan, 53, security services director Jamil Sayyed, 58, domestic security chief Ali Hajj, 52, and military intelligence chief Raymond Azar, 56.

     

    Considered pro-Syrian, the men were detained following the massive February 2005 bomb blast on the Beirut seafront that killed Hariri and 22 other people, stirring a political crisis and leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year presence in Lebanon.

     

    In the courts first sitting since officially opening on March 1, Fransen instructed the Lebanese authorities "immediately to take the measures necessary to ensure the safety" of the four generals, and to free them without delay.

     

    Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told the France 24 news channel that Beirut would implement the courts ruling at once.

     

    Lawyers for the men said the decision came four years too late, as celebratory gunfire broke out in the stronghold of the Syrian-allied Hezbollah movement in southern Beirut and relatives of the generals wept with joy.

     

    "After 44 months, justice has been done and it should have been 43 months ago," Naji Bustany, counsel for Mustafa Hamdan and Raymond Azar, told AFP.

     

    "This is the result I was waiting for a long time ago," said Hajj’s lawyer Issam Karam. "I followed the case from the onset and there is nothing in the file that implicates the generals."

     

    Bustany said the four generals would be released from the Lebanese prison where they have been held since 2005 by Thursday morning at the latest.

     

    A UN investigative commission has found evidence that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services were linked to Hariri’s killing. Damascus has consistently denied any involvement.

     

    Fransen’s decision has no bearing on the general’s guilt or innocence, and they can still be indicted at a later stage.

     

    No date has yet been set for the tribunal’s first trial. Bellemare has stated he would only file indictments once convinced that he had enough evidence.

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