BEIRUT: The last words that former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri said before he took off on the car trip that would end his life were about entrusting Lebanon to his successor Premier Omar Karami, a journalist and confidante told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday.
Faisal Salman, a former journalist and political columnist for As-Safir and now media adviser to Future TV, was one of the last people to speak with Hariri when the former leader took a detour to meet journalists at Café de l’Etoile in Nijmeh Square, minutes before he was assassinated.
“He said to me, ‘Don’t forget to tell Karami that the country is entrusted to him,” Salman said.
He added that Hariri had hoped Karami would take a strong stand on the electoral law debate ahead of the 2005 parliamentary vote.
Salman also described the moment when the journalists at the cafe felt the impact of the massive bombing.
“We saw from the cafe, from the glass façade, black smoke rising great distances,” he said. “Some of the glass was shattered in the cafe and the surroundings. Everyone rushed to find out what had happened.”
Salman, who was trusted by Hariri and met regularly with him to discuss politics, testified by video link as hearings resumed at the STL. The tribunal is trying in absentia five members of Hezbollah accused of complicity in the 2005 attack.
The testimony is part of a broader arc in the trial that sets the political scene ahead of the bombing, laying out the rising tensions between Hariri and the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
Former Premier Fouad Siniora and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt are expected to testify in this phase of the trial.
Salman’s testimony painted Hariri as a political leader who was confident in the victory of his anti-Syrian coalition in the upcoming polls, but one that also did not see Syria as the enemy.
Salman said Hariri was worried that the Syria and its allies would try to fix the electoral law in order to minimize his victory in the parliamentary polls, but that he remained confident that his bloc, which included Jumblatt and Christians opposed to the Syrian presence, would win a majority.
“He said that regardless of what the electoral law is, he would take part in the elections with his allies and would win,” Salman testified, recounting Hariri’s final conversation with journalists at the cafe. “He said that he had confidence in the Lebanese people who know where their political interests lie.”
Hariri also indicated he would not be forced into running alongside allies of Syria forced upon him by the regime in the same parliamentary lists.
Still, Salman said Hariri did not seek enmity with Assad, adding that the former leader “did not want to sever links with the Syrian regime.”
Hariri, he said, believed that Lebanon “should not be governed against Syria,” but that it also “should not be governed from Syria.”
Salman said Hariri had grown more concerned about his security in early 2005, weeks before his assassination, placing more checkpoints around his Qoreitem Palace residence and hiring more guards. The day of his assassination was the first time Salman had seen Hariri’s heightened protection team accompany him into the cafe.