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By Thomas Escritt and Anthony Deutsch
THE HAGUE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The trial of the four men accused of killing former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri opened in The Hague on Thursday, nine years after the bomb attack in which 21 others also died.
The four members of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah movement are charged with planning the 2005 blast on Beirut's waterfront, an attack which almost tipped the country back into civil war.
All four - Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra - remain at large and are bring tried in absentia.
"The prosecutor intends to call hundreds of witnesses in this trial and to present thousands of exhibits," presiding judge David Re told the court.
"The evidence, including a considerable amount of telecoms data, leaves marks behind concerning the true identities of the perpetrators," said prosecutor Norman Farrell.
A large scale model of the scene of the bombing scene stood in the middle of the courtroom, with a mock-up of the St. George Hotel, in front of which a Mitsubishi van laden with up to 3000kg of high explosives detonated, leaving a massive crater.
"The attackers used an extraordinary amount of high explosives, far more than necessary," Farrell said.
"It is not that the perpetrators did not care if they killed their fellow citizens. They intended to do so."
The trial is being held in a converted basketball court in the former headquarters of the Dutch intelligence services, a building with its own moat on the outskirts of The Hague.
The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon was set up with the support of the United Nations and the backing of the then Lebanese government to investigate and prosecute Hariri's killing. (Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Sara Webb and Andrew Heavens)