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Hezbollah dismissed allegations it played a role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, one day after a German magazine published a report saying the group was responsible.
The anonymously sourced article in Germany’s "Der Spiegel" says that investigators working with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon”believe that Hezbollah was behind the murder."
The article says cell phone records led investigators to conclude that Hezbollah organized the killing, then speculates that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah may have had Hariri killed because he was a “thorn in the side of Lebanese Shiite leader Nasrallah.”
“In 2005, the billionaire began to outstrip the revolutionary leader in terms of popularity,” the article said. “Besides, he stood for everything the fanatical and spartan Hezbollah leader hated: Close ties to the West and a prominent position among moderate Arab heads of state, an opulent lifestyle, and membership in the competing Sunni faith. Hariri was, in a sense, the alternative to Nasrallah.”
The article goes on to name the Hezbollah operatives who planned and carried out the assassination, although the report says they are now all missing or dead.
The report comes just two weeks before Lebanon holds parliamentary elections that pit a coalition including the Iranian-backed Hezbollah against the U.S.-backed March 14 movement. The race is tight, and pollsters have predicted a possible win by Hezbollah and its allies.
Hezbollah denied the accusations in the "Der Spiegel" story, saying the story's appearance before the elections is no coincidence.
"This is a pure fabrication aimed at influencing the [upcoming Lebanese] election campaign and to deflect attention from the news about the dismantling of spy networks working for Israel," the statement said.
If there is any truth to the report, it could have enormous repercussions for a country on the verge the first elections since the March 14 coalition was swept into power following Hariri’s assassination, and on the region. Many March 14 supporters accused Syria of the murder. Syria denied involvement, although an initial U.N. report suggested Damascus may have had a hand in the assassination.
But then last month the tribunal released the only four suspects in the case for lack of evidence. All four had controlled Lebanon’s powerful intelligence and security bureaus, and had been locked up on suspicion of helping Syria organize the crime. Their release signaled that the tribunal didn’t have enough evidence against them, or the investigation had taken a big turn.
A spokeswoman for the tribunal prosecutor refused to comment on the "Der Spiegel" report, according to Agence France-Presse.
"We don't know where they are getting the story from," the spokesperson told AFP. "The office of the prosecutor doesn't comment on any issues related to operational aspects of the investigation."