Jerusalem, July 31 - The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four Hezbollah militants in the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Hariri was considered a moderate and pro-Western leader. His assassination has been the subject of an intense and prolonged probe by an independent U.N.-backed tribunal.
The tribunal issued arrest warrants for four men from Iran-backed Hezbollah -- Mustafa Badreddine, Salim al-Ayyash, Hassan Issa and Asad Sabra.
Badreddine allegedly masterminded and supervised the plot to kill Hariri while Ayyash led the cell that actually carried out the operation, Lebanon's Daily Star reported.
Badreddine, who is linked to the 1983 truck bombings at the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait, is "Hezbollah's chief operations officer." He is protected by Hezbollah's security apparatus.
He replaced his former cousin and brother-in-law, Imad Mughniyeh--one of the world's most wanted terrorists--in that post after Mughniyeh was killed in Syria in 2008.
The inquiry led to the collapse of Lebanon's previous government in January when its members 'walked out' in response to circulation of the tribunal's confidential indictments to a pre-trial judge that included Hezbollah members.
With more than 40,000 rockets stored in its military arsenal in southern Lebanon alone, Hezbollah now dominates the new Lebanese government. Its bloc holds 18 posts in the new government--up from 11 in the previous government.
Many, including Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general, do not think that those named in the indictment will be arrested. Lebanese officials have already alluded to the idea that the men charged will not be arrested.
A top concern in Lebanon is that the implication of Hezbollah in the Hariri assassination will foster sectarian clashes in a country already rife with political and ethnic tensions.
Hezbollah, an Iranian Shi'ite terrorist proxy group originally founded to fight Israel, has grown to be a formidable force in Lebanese politics. Iran and Syria are Hezbollah's sponsors. Although in recent years, Hezbollah's criminal network has "grown in size, scope and savvy," Matthew Levitt, a terrorist expert at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently explained.
Hezbollah "has raised funds through criminal activities, including counterfeiting currencies and goods, credit-card fraud, and money laundering," which garners millions for the terror group, Levitt added. Many of its fraudulent activities have surfaced as high-profile cases involving smuggling through foreign countries, such as the United States.