Beirut – A UN-backed court investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri delivered an indictment and four arrest warrants Thursday, the latest turn in a case that has transformed this Arab nation and brought down the government earlier this year.
The names of the accused were not released, but the court has been expected to accuse members of the Iran-backed militant group Hizbullah. Many fear that could lead to street protests and plunge the violence-wracked country back into a new crisis.
The long-awaited indictment was confirmed by the office of Hariri's son, Saad.
"After long years of patience, waiting and continuous national struggle, it was announced today that the indictment in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his comrades has been released," Saad Hariri's office said.
According to tribunal rules, Lebanese authorities now have 30 days to serve the indictments on suspects or execute arrest warrants. If they fail, the court can then order the indictment published and advertised in local media.
Saad Hariri also served as Lebanon's prime minister. But he was forced from office in January, when Hizbullah and its allies toppled his government in a conflict over the tribunal.
The group, which is also backed by Syria, fiercely denies any role in the killing and says the tribunal is a conspiracy by Israel and the United States.
The dispute over the investigation encapsulates Lebanon's most explosive conflicts: the role of Hizbullah, the country's most powerful political and military force; the country's dark history of sectarian divisions and violence; and Lebanon's fraught relationship with neighboring Syria.
Rafik Hariri was killed along with 22 other people in a massive truck bombing along Beirut's waterfront on 14 February, 2005.
The indictment raises concerns of a possible resurgence of violence that has bedeviled this tiny Arab country of four million people for years, including a devastating 1975-1990 civil war and sectarian battles between Sunnis and Shias in 2008.