Hariri tribunal orders release of detained four generals

BEIRUT, April 29, 2009 (MENASSAT) - A judge at the U.N.-backed tribunal established to prosecute ex Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri's assassins ordered on Wednesday the immediate release of four Lebanese generals being held in custody in Lebanon as suspects behind the blast that killed Hariri and 22 others in February 2005.

Judge Daniel Fransen announced the release of the Lebanese generals after prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to justify the continued detention of the generals.

“The pre-trial judge orders, unless they are held in another case, the release with immediate effect," he said.

Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said in response to the decision that the state is “committed to Judge Fransen’s decision to release four generals and ensure their security”.

The four men all held key positions in Lebanon’s security infrastructure and have been detained in Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh prison without charges for four years.

They are the former head of General Security Maj Gen Jamil al-Sayyad, former chief of police Maj Gen Ali Hajj, former military intelligence chief Brig Gen Raymond Azar and Republican Guard commander Mustafa Hamdan.

Supporters of the generals celebrated the decision in Beirut, setting off fire works and firing guns into the air following the court’s announcement.

Already at 2. 50 pm, twenty minutes before the official announcement of the generals’ release, Hezbollah’s  Al-Manar TV reported that “preparations were underway in Roumieh prison” for their release.

Naji Bustany, lawyer for Mustafa Hamdan and Raymond Azar, welcomed the decision, but said his defendants should have been released earlier.

"After 44 months, justice has been done. It should have been 43 months ago," he told AFP.

The Hariri tribunal opened on March 1 this year amid tight security at the former headquarters of a Dutch intelligence agency in Leidschendam outside The Hague.

It is comprised of Lebanese and international judges and has a Canadian chief prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare, who has yet to issue any indictments.

UN investigators have for years been trying to probe Hariri’s assassination. The former chief investigator in the case, Germany's Detlev Mehlis, said evidence suggested that Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services had a role in his killing.

There is widespread belief that Syria played a role in Hariri's killing, although Damascus strongly denies this.

Massive demonstrations erupted against the Syrian presence in Lebanon following Hariri’s killing that led to the end of tdecades of Syrian control over Lebanon.

Analysts believe the release of the generals is likely to provide Lebanon's pro-Syrian opposition, led by Hezbollah, with a boost in Lebanon’s June Parliamentary elections.

The generals could, however, still be indicted in a later phase despite the tribunal's decision.

(Sources: BBC, AP, Now Lebanon, and Naharnet)