On 14 February 2005 Rafic Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, was killed along with 21 others in an explosion in Beirut. Explosives equivalent to around 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of TNT were detonated as his motorcade drove near the St. George Hotel. Among the dead were several of Hariri's bodyguards and his friend, and former Minister of the Economy, Bassel Fleihan. Hariri was buried, along with the bodyguards who died in the bombing, in a location near Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque. According to CBC News, The Wall Street Journal and Israeli daily Ha'aretz, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, along with an independent investigation carried out by Captain Wissam Hassan of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch, had found compelling evidence for the responsibility of Lebanese militia Hezbollah in the assassination. In quick succession to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon contacting Capt. Eid, in order to aid its investigation, Al-Hassan died in a car explosion in the Achrafieh district on 19 October 2012. The latter had been the heart of Lebanon's security and stability, and was regarded as a key figure in keeping the investigation ongoing.
Hariri and others in the anti-Syrian opposition had questioned the plan to extend the term of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, emboldened by popular anger and civic action now being called Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution". Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a newer recruit of the anti-Syrian opposition, said in the wake of the assassination that in August 2004 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened Hariri, saying "Lahoud represents me. ... If you and Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will destroy Lebanon." He was quoted as saying "I heard him telling us those words." The United States, the EU and the UN have stopped short of any accusations, choosing instead to demand a Syrian pullout from Lebanon and an open and international investigation of the assassination. Jumblatt's comments are not without controversy; the BBC describes him as "being seen by many as the country's political weathervane" - consistently changing allegiances to emerge on the winning side of the issues du jour through the turmoil of the 1975-90 civil war and its troubled aftermath. He was a supporter of Syria after the war but switched sides after the death of former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad in 2000. His account is quoted, but not confirmed, in the UN's FitzGerald Report. The report stops short of directly accusing Damascus or any other party, saying that only a further thorough international inquest can identify the culprit. Lara Marlow, an Irish journalist also said that Hariri told her that he received threats. The Lebanese government has agreed to this inquiry, though calling for the full participation, not supremacy, of its own agencies and the respect of Lebanese sovereignty.
According to these testimonies, Hariri reminded Assad of his pledge not to seek an extension for Lahoud's term, and Assad replied that there was a policy shift and that the decision was already taken. He added that Lahoud should be viewed as his personal representative in Lebanon and that "opposing him is tantamount to opposing Assad himself". He then added that he (Assad) "would rather break Lebanon over the heads of Hariri and [Druze leader] Walid Jumblatt than see his word in Lebanon broken". Irish journalist Lara Marlowe with whom Hariri talked reported similar allegations. According to the testimonies, Assad then threatened both longtime allies Hariri and Jumblatt with physical harm if they opposed the extension for Lahoud. The meeting reportedly lasted for ten minutes, and was the last time Hariri met with Assad. After that meeting, Hariri told his supporters that they had no other option but to support the extension for Lahoud. The Mission has also received accounts of further threats made to Hariri by security officials in case he abstained from voting in favor of the extension or "even thought of leaving the country". Many analysts also believe that Assad was unhappy with Hariri for his support of Resolution 1559 and of the Syria Accountability Act". The resolution was sponsored and spearheaded by Jacques Chirac, France's former president and personal friend of Hariri. Given the strong relationship that Hariri enjoyed with Chirac, many believe that if the former was not directly involved he could have at least swayed his friend from sponsoring a Resolution that meant to harm the Syrian government and people.
The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1595 to send an investigative team to look into Hariri's assassination. This team was headed by German judge Detlev Mehlis and presented its initial report to the Security Council on 20 October 2005. The Mehlis Report implicated Syrian and Lebanese officials, with special focus on Syria's military intelligence chief, late Assef Shawkat and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law. United States President George W. Bush called for a special meeting of the UN to be convened to discuss international response "as quickly as possible to deal with this very serious matter." Detlev Mehlis asked for more time to investigate all leads. Lebanese politicians asked to extend the investigative team's duration and charter, to include assassinations of other prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese, such as Gebran Tueni. A second report, submitted on 10 December 2005, upheld the conclusions from the first report. On 11 January 2006, Mehlis was replaced by the Belgian Serge Brammertz.
Syria had extensive military and intelligence influence in Lebanon at the time of Hariri's murder, but Damascus claimed repeatedly it had no knowledge of the bombing. A United Nations report sponsored by the US and UK found converging evidence of Syrian and Lebanese involvement in this attack. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to demand full Syrian cooperation with UN investigators in the matter, and Serge Brammertz's last two reports praised Syria's full co-operation.
On 30 December 2005, former Syrian vice-president Abdul Halim Khaddam in a televised interview implicated President Assad in the assassination and said that Assad personally threatened Hariri in the months before his death. This interview has caused Syrian MPs to demand treason charges against Khaddam.
On 18 December 2006, a progress report by former head of the investigation, Serge Brammertz, indicated that DNA evidence collected from the crime scene suggests that the assassination might be the act of a young male suicide bomber.
On 28 March 2008, the tenth report of the UN's International Independent Investigation Commission found that, "a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and that this criminal network — the "Hariri Network" — or parts thereof are linked to some of the other cases within the Commission's mandate."
The Security Council extended the mandate for the investigation, which was to end in December 2008, until 28 February 2009.
On 7 February 2012, Hurriyet reported investigators from the United Nations interviewed Louai Sakka, interested in whether he had played a role in the assassination.
The Government of Lebanon and United Nations agreed to establish a Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2007, signing the agreement on 23 January 2007 and 6 February 2007 respectively. When the agreement was sent to the Lebanese Parliament for ratification, however, the Speaker refused to convene Parliament to vote on it. Upon request from a majority of members of the Lebanese parliament and the Prime Minister, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1757, implementing the agreement.
For reasons of security, administrative efficiency and fairness, the Tribunal has its seat outside Lebanon, in Leidschendam, on the outskirts of The Hague, the Netherlands. The premises of the Tribunal is the former headquarters of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst, or AIVD). The Netherlands originally agreed to host the Tribunal on December 21st, 2007. The court opened on 1 March 2009.
The Tribunal is the first international court to prosecute terrorism as a distinct crime.
On 29 April 2009, following a request of Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, the Pre-Trial Judge determined that the four suspects arrested during the investigation could not be considered "as either suspects or accused persons in the proceedings pending before the Tribunal" and ordered their unconditional release. The detained persons were were General Jamil al Sayyed (head of General Security), General Ali al Hajj (chief of internal security forces, the Lebanese police force), Brigadier-General Raymond Azar (head of Army Intelligence) and Brigadier-General Mustafa Hamdan (head of the presidential guard). Considered as Syria's main rule-enforcing agents at the time, they spent nearly 3 years and 8 months in detention after Lebanese authorities arrested them on 1 September 2005, and during that period no charges were ever pressed against them. Their release came amidst a tense political atmosphere in Lebanon, due to the officially admitted heavy politicization of the affair. Several anti-Syrian political figures have stated that "[we] still consider them as guilty."
On 30 June 2011, Haaretz reported that the Tribunal had submitted to Lebanon's Prosecutor General indictments of four Lebanese Hezbollah members, and a foreigner. The indictments were served by representatives of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Prosecutor v. Ayyash et al. began on the 16th of January 2014 with an opening statement from the Prosecution. Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra are currently on trial in absentia, as it was determined they had absconded and did not wish to participate in the trial. The trial is ongoing.
In August 2010, in response to notification that the UN tribunal would indict some Hezbollah members, Hassan Nasrallah said Israel was looking for a way to assassinate Hariri as early as 1993 in order to create political chaos that would force Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, and to perpetuate an anti-Syrian atmosphere [in Lebanon] in the wake of the assassination. He went on to say that in 1996 Hezbollah apprehended an agent working for Israel by the name of Ahmed Nasrallah – no relation to Hassan Nasrallah – who allegedly contacted Hariri's security detail and told them that he had solid proof that Hezbollah was planning to take his life. Hariri then contacted Hezbollah and advised them of the situation. Saad Hariri responded that the UN should investigate these claims.
Hariri was well regarded among international leaders, for example, he was a close friend of French President Jacques Chirac. Few felt he was a threat due to his ties with the EU and the West. Chirac was one of the first foreign dignitaries to offer condolences to Hariri's widow in person at her home in Beirut. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon was also created at his instigation.
Following Hariri's death, there were several other bombings and assassinations against anti-Syrian figures. These included Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Gebran Tueni, Pierre Amine Gemayel, and Walid Eido. Assassination attempts were made on Elias Murr, May Chidiac, and Samir Shehade (who was investigating Hariri's death).