The UN-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri said it had been told Tuesday that none of the Hezbollah members it had identified as suspects has been arrested.
"The Lebanese Prosecutor General submitted his report today. He stated that none of the four people who are accused have been detained," the Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) said in a statement.
Lebanese authorities had until August 11 to report on progress made in arresting four men wanted in connection with the February 14, 2005, massive car bomb explosion in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others. Interpol has also issued wanted notices for the men.
The tribunal first submitted warrants for the four to Lebanon in late June.
Judge Daniel Fransen last month ordered confidentiality around the names and charges against Salim Ayyash, 47, Mustafa Badreddine, 50, Hussein Anaissi, 37 and Assad Sabra, 34, be partially dropped.
Ayyash and Badreddine face among others, charges of "committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device" and homicide including Hariri's death, while Anaissi and Sabra faced charges of conspiring to commit the same acts.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
But Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia which is now a key player in Lebanon's coalition government, has ruled out the arrest of the four suspects, hinting that the STL was heading for a trial in absentia.
The STL's president Antonio Cassese would now consider the report, the court's statement said Tuesday.
"(He) will in due course make a determination on the next steps," it said, adding that Lebanon's obligation under a UN Security Council resolution to "arrest, detain and transfer the accused continued."
As soon as Cassese finished studying the Lebanese report, he will have the option of ordering the indictment or parts of it to be served on the accused through a public announcement in the Lebanese media, STL spokesman Marten Youssef told AFP.
If no arrests are made within 30 working days from the start of the public announcement, the tribunal has the option of trying the case in absentia.
Set up after a 2007 UN Security Council resolution at Lebanon's request, the STL opened its doors in March 2001 to find those responsible for Hariri's assassination. It is the the first international tribunal with jurisdiction over the crime of terrorism and can impose a maximum sentence of life in jail.
But the STL's establishment triggered a deep political crisis in the volatile Arab nation.