The U.N-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced Monday that its prosecutor had issued confidential indictments in the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
Special Tribunal for Lebanon Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare has filed a sealed indictment today according to a statement posted on its website.
The indictments were filed with the Tribunal’s Registrar Herman von Hebel and will remain confidential at this time.
The indictments are in connection with the murder of billionaire businessman and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri who was the target of an assassination in February of 2005.
Hariri was instantly killed along with 22 others after his motorcade was hit by a massive explosion while driving near Beirut's St. George Hotel area.
The murder sparked world-wide outrage with condemnations coming from top leaders including American President George Bush and France's Jacques Chirac.
Lebanon's neighbor Syria, who had a dominant military presence in Lebanon, was first blamed for the attack with some suggesting it may have been an act of political payback. Hariri had stepped down in 2004 in protest of a constitutional amendment extending the term of then President Émile Lahoud for another three years.
The assassination brought about Lebanon's Cedar Revolution which heaped global pressure on the Bashar al-Assad regime to withdraw Syrian forces from Lebanon.
The STL was launched in December of 2005 at the request of Lebanon and has been partially funded by it.
In recent years, the investigation has produced some evidence of a Hizb'allah connection in the murder with cell-phone records being linked to several members of the Lebanese Shi'a militant group.
The suggestion of Hizb'allah involvement shocked many Lebanese and threatened to divide the country along a Sunni-Shi'a sectarian divide, raising the specter of a return to civil strife.
Hizb'allah has vehemently denied the allegations, instead implicating Israel in the murder plot.
In November, Hizb'allah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah warned that his group would not allow the arrest of any of its members, vowing to "cut off the hand" of anyone who tried.
Lebanon endured a destructive 15-year long civil war from 1975-1990 which destroyed its economy and cost the lives of between 130,000-250,000 people.
A Saudi-Syrian sponsored peace agreement centered on governmental reforms and the dissolution of all militia groups brought an end to the war but Hizb'allah was allowed to maintain its weapons as a deterrent to Israeli aggression.
Israeli-occupied Southern Lebanon was liberated by the group in 2000 further cementing its popularity among the Lebanese. Public calls for the group's disarmament followed, a move the group has thus far resisted.
In 2008, an armed conflict broke out in Beirut between Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Sunni "Future Movement" faction and Hizb'allah-allied Shi'a militants which resulted in the deaths of 80 people and sparked fear of an escalation into full-scale Sunni-Shi'a war.
The fighting had been sparked by a 17-month long political crisis which culminated in the takeover of Sunni-dominated west Beirut by militants loyal to Hizb'allah.
A successful end to the fighting was achieved after rival parties managed to broker an agreement which saw the Lebanese Armed Forces peacefully take over areas previously occupied by Hizb'allah partisans.
Hizb'allah has sought to quash the STL, claiming the investigation was an American-Zionist plot to blame the militant group and accusing the western-backed Hariri government of complicity.
Less than one week ago, 10 Hizb'allah-backed ministers resigned from the 30-member Hariri cabinet after failing to convince the leader to convene an emergency cabinet meeting to refute any findings the STL may release.
The subsequent resignation of an eleventh Hizb'allah-allied minster lead to the automatic collapse of the coalition government.
Lebanon President Michel Suleiman has asked Hariri to stay on as Prime Minister temporarily while consultations on the formation of a new government take place.
Hizb'allah has said it will refuse to support a new government headed by Hariri suggesting its own pro-Syrian candidates.
Parliamentary consultations have since been postponed until the 24th of January to give time for tensions to subside.
The STL indictments were submitted to Pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen and mark the end of the investigative phase and the beginning of the judicial phase of the investigation.
According to Ya Libnan, it could be 6 to 10 weeks before the public release of the contents pending the approval of the indictments by Fransen.
A video-taped statement by the prosecution is set to be issued Tuesday which will address the significance of the indictment in more detail.