Later today, a court just outside The Hague in the Netherlands will hand down its judgment on the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Four men have been tried in absentia accused of the murder of 22 people, including Mr Hariri, who led Lebanon on five occasions in the years after the 1975-1990 civil war.

It is a decision that had been eagerly anticipated earlier this month, when it was initially supposed to be delivered.

But then came two blasts in the centre of Beirut on 4 August, which turned the attention of that city, country, and the world, to the immediate issue of helping those affected by the explosion.

The Special Tribunal on Lebanon deferred the ruling, which had been scheduled for 6 August "out of respect for the countless victims" of the huge blast in Beirut’s port area.

Who was Rafik al-Hariri?

Rafik al-Hariri first became Lebanese prime minister in 1992 and spearheaded efforts to rebuild the country after a civil war that had done extensive damage.

He was a multi-billionaire who had made his money in construction in Saudi Arabia and he was the dominant Sunni Muslim politician in Lebanon's sectarian system.

A close friend of the late French president Jacques Chirac, Hariri was known for his international contacts.

He was a Saudi passport holder and seen as a symbol of Saudi influence in the post-war years during which Lebanon was dominated by Syria.

Hariri in Paris with then French president Jacques Chirac in September 2004

How was he killed?

On 14 February 2005, Hariri got into his car after visiting the Café de l'Etoile near the parliament, where he served as an MP.

As his car passed along Beirut’s seafront corniche, close to the port area, a truck bomb exploded.

Twenty-one people were killed in addition to Hariri.

The victims included killed Hariri's bodyguards, pedestrians and the former economy minister Bassil Fleihan.

What was the impact of the attack?

The assassination ignited what became known as the "Cedar Revolution", major protests against the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

Under growing international pressure, Syria eventually withdrew its troops from Lebanon.

The assassination exacerbated political and sectarian tension inside Lebanon and across the Middle East.

The site of the explosion that killed Hariri in Beirut in February 2005

Who has been accused?

Four defendants are being tried in absentia by the court near The Hague.

They are Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi, all of whom are linked to Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist group.

All are charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack, while Mr Ayyash is charged with committing a terrorist act, homicide and attempted homicide.

The men are not accused of having personally detonated the explosives. Hezbollah denies any involvement in killing Hariri.

What have they accused said?

The four have not taken part in this trial, which began in 2014, and their whereabouts are not known.

They have not said anything in public since the trial began and they have not communicated with the court-appointed lawyers representing them.

Their defence lawyers say there is no direct evidence linking the four men to what the prosecution calls a "mosaic of evidence" largely based on mobile phone records.

Judges in the courtroom of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague

What is likely to happen after the verdict?

If the four men are convicted there is no expectation that they would be handed over to serve any sentence that might be imposed.

There are fears though that the result of the tribunal could destabilise the country even further, given the already intense sectarian and factional divides.

Added to that is the economic and political instability that Lebanon is going through, as well as the Covid-19 crisis.

All of that before the devastating explosions of 4 August, in which 178 people were killed, thousands were injured and hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless.

This month's explosions in Beirut killed 177 people

The tribunal process has been long drawn out and costly and has not examined some major issues, such as what country, if any, might have been behind the attack.

A four-year case in which many held out hope of getting to the truth of the assassination might yet leave everyone unhappy with the result.