Hezbollah chief defends Hariri suspects in Lebanon

Date: 7/2/2011

By BASSEM MROUE – Associated Press | AP – Sat, Jul 2, 2011

BEIRUT (AP) – Hezbollah's leader said Saturday that the four men indicted in the killing of a former Lebanese prime minister are "honorable" members of his Shiite militant group, and he denounced the six–year investigation as a plot by Israel.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah's remarks, given in a televised address, were his first public comments since the long–awaited indictment was announced Thursday.

The suggestion that Hezbollah was involved in the 2005 Beirut truck bombing that killed Rafik Hariri threatens to plunge this Arab nation on Israel's northern border into a new and violent crisis. Hezbollah has denied any role in the killing and vowed never to turn over any of its members.

Nasrallah said the suspects named in the indictment are brothers "who have an honorable history in resisting Israeli occupation." He went on to cast doubt on the U.N.–backed tribunal investigating the crime and said it was biased.

The case has further polarized Lebanon's rival factions – Hezbollah with its patrons in Syria and Iran on one side, and a Western–backed bloc led by Hariri's son, Saad, on the other.

The bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people on Feb. 14, 2005, was one of the most dramatic political assassinations in the Middle East. A billionaire businessman, Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent politician after the 15–year civil war ended in 1990.

In the six years since his death, the investigation has sharpened some of Lebanon's most intractable issues: the role of Hezbollah, the country's most powerful political and military force, and the country's dark history of sectarian divisions and violence.

Rafik Hariri was one of Lebanon's most powerful Sunni leaders; Hezbollah is a Shiite group.

One of the men named in the indictment, Mustafa Badreddine, has a storied history of militancy.

He is suspected of building the powerful bomb that blew up the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 Americans, mostly Marines, according to a federal law enforcement official and a book "Jawbreaker," by Gary Berntsen, a former official who ran the Hezbollah task force at the CIA.

Nasrallah confirmed the three others also are Hezbollah members in his speech.


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