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US offers $10 million reward for info on Hezbollah operative

UN-backed tribunal convicted Salim Jamil Ayyash in 2020 for his part in the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri

A car passes under a Lebanese flag with a picture of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A car passes under a Lebanese flag with a picture of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The United States on Monday offered a $10 million reward for information on a Hezbollah operative who was convicted last year in the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

The State Department said the reward will be given to anyone who provides information preventing Salim Jamil Ayyash from planning or engaging in any attack against a US citizen or American interests. Ayyash is a senior member of Hezbollah’s Unit 121, an assassination squad that the department said reports to the terror group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The announcement said Ayyash is known to have been involved in efforts to harm American troops in the past. An international tribunal convicted Ayyash in absentia and sentenced him to five life sentences on charges related to the 2005 suicide truck bombing in Beirut that killed Hariri and 21 other people. The tribunal found that Ayyash led the team that carried out the attack.

In addition to its December 2020 verdict, the Netherlands-based tribunal issued new international arrest warrants for Ayyash and authorized its prosecutor to ask Interpol to issue “red notices” to its member states seeking his arrest.

Three other Hezbollah members were acquitted in August of all charges that they also were involved in the killing, which sent shock waves through the Middle East.

The judgment harked back to an event that changed the face of the Middle East, with Hariri’s assassination triggering a wave of demonstrations that pushed Syrian forces out of Lebanon after 30 years.

The four defendants went on trial in 2014 on charges including the “intentional homicide” of Hariri and 21 others, attempted homicide of 226 people wounded in the bombing, and conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

The alleged mastermind of the bombing, Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine, was indicted by the tribunal but is believed to have been killed in the Damascus area in May 2016.

Hariri had served as Lebanon’s prime minister until he resigned in October 2004.

He was killed in February 2005 when a suicide bomber detonated a van filled with explosives as his armored convoy drove past. As well as those killed, another 226 were wounded in the blast.

In their long-awaited ruling in August, judges said there was sufficient evidence to show that Ayyash was at the center of a network of mobile phone users who scoped out Hariri’s movements for months before his assassination.

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