BEIRUT — A U.N.-backed court indicted at least one senior Hezbollah member and three other suspects Thursday in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Lebanese official said.
Many fear the implication of Hezbollah could plunge the country into a new and violent crisis. The truck bombing that killed Hariri six years ago transformed this tiny Arab nation and brought down its government earlier this year.
An international tribunal issued the indictments and arrest warrants Thursday without releasing the names of the accused. But a Lebanese judicial official who saw the arrest warrants read the names to The Associated Press, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The U.N.-backed Hariri tribunal had long been expected to accuse members of Hezbollah — something the Iranian-backed militant group has insisted it will not accept. Lebanon recently formed a new government that gave Hezbollah unprecedented political power.
There have been lingering fears that tensions over the tribunal could lead to street protests and a new crisis in a country where stability has long been shaky.
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.
Hezbollah had no immediate comment.
Hariri, 60 years old at the time, was among 23 people killed in the blast.
“The Lebanese government should commit to full cooperation with the international court, and not run away from detaining the suspects and hand them over to justice which is the guarantee to democracy and stability,” Saad Hariri’s office said.
Saad Hariri also served as Lebanon’s prime minister. But he was forced from office in January, when Hezbollah and its allies toppled his government in a conflict over the tribunal. Hezbollah, 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 court encapsulates Lebanon’s most explosive conflicts: the role of Hezbollah, 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.
The indictment raises concerns of a possible resurgence of violence that has bedeviled this tiny Arab country of 4 million people for years, including a devastating 1975-1990 civil war and sectarian battles between Sunnis and Shiites in 2008.