After nine years, the trial of four suspects accused of assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri opened on Thursday in The Hague. Hariri was blown up in Beirut in February 2005 in an attack that claimed the lives of 21 other people and injured many more.
The ex-prime minister's supporters hailed the start of the trial and said that it would be a chance to close a long period during which killers have been able to escape punishment in Lebanon. It has been, they claim, virtually a free zone for criminals since the civil war which lasted from 1975 to 1990.
Documents prepared for the trial show that the bomb which killed Hariri was most definitely a pre-planned assassination attempt. Reports claim that the bomb was carried in a Mitsubishi minibus packed with about 2.5 tons of high explosive. The identity of the suicide bomber who drove the minibus is still unknown.
The four suspects on trial are members of Hezbollah. Named as Mostafa Badriddin, aged 52, Salim Ayyash, 50, Hussein Oneesi, 39 and Assad Sabra, 37, all are being tried in absentia.
Investigators concentrated on a network of mobile phones, they said, which the killers used to plan the attack. Most of the information published about the incident has been based on mobile phone recordings.
A fifth suspect, Hassan Merei, was accused of helping to carry out another attack last year. He was also accused of covering-up Hezbollah's role in that attack. Judges in The Hague, however, have refused to combine that attack with the Hariri case.
The trial is taking place in a former sports hall, which has been converted into a court. The hearings are expected to take years. Hezbollah insists that it did not have any role in the Hariri assassination and has refused to cooperate with the court.