Investigation into Beirut’s massive 2020 port explosion resumes following 13-month halt

Streaming HUBJanuary 23, 2023

The judge probing Beirut’s massive 2020 port explosion resumed work on Monday after a nearly 13-month pause, judicial officials said, ordering the release of some detainees and indicting others including two top generals. announced plans to install

Judge Tarek Bitar’s work was blocked from December 2021 pending a Court of Cassation decision after three former cabinet ministers filed a legal challenge against him. The court is the highest in the country.

Judicial officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that despite no decision by the court, Bitar began working on the case on Monday on legal grounds as they were not authorized to speak to the media. . He didn’t elaborate.

Bitter did not respond to calls for comment by The Associated Press.

The August 4, 2020 disaster occurred when hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, exploded at the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people, injuring more than 6,000, and destroying large parts of Beirut. was harmed. The explosion is considered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.

It later emerged that the ammonium nitrate had been shipped to Lebanon in 2013 and had been improperly stored in a port warehouse since then. Senior political and security officials were aware of its presence but did nothing.

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Judicial officials said Bitter had decided to release five people who had been detained for more than two years. These include former customs chief Shafiq Marhi; Sami Hussein, the port’s chief of operations at the time of the explosion and a Syrian activist. Twelve people remain in custody at the time of the explosion, including the head of the port authority and the head of Lebanese customs.

Bitter’s move to order the release of some of the 17 people detained shortly after the explosion followed days of protests by family members in Beirut demanding that all 17 be freed.

Smoke rises after an explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, on August 5, 2020. The judge probing the blasts resumed his work on January 23, 2023, after a break of 13 months.

Smoke rises after an explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, on August 5, 2020. The judge probing the blasts resumed his work on January 23, 2023, after a break of 13 months.
(AP Photo/Bilal Hussain, File)

“What Bitter did today is that he committed a flagrant violation of international law,” says Selin Atallah, a lawyer for detainee Badri Daher, who was the customs chief at the time of the explosion. “If he believes that he has the authority to release some of the detainees, then that means he has the authority to release all seventeen of those detained and he must release them.

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Lebanese-American Attallah told the AP, “Under international conventions that Lebanon has ratified and human rights laws, their detention is illegal. I hold them accountable for holding seventeen people hostage.”

Officials said eight people are expected to be charged by Bitar, including top intelligence officers Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba. Bitter had earlier accused three former ministers who refused to appear for questioning several times and filed legal complaints to block the probe.

Paul Naggier, a survivor of the devastating blaze who lost his 3-year-old daughter Alexandra, said the news was unexpected.

“Obviously it’s very positive. That’s all we’re asking for,” he told the AP. “We are happy with the decision (to revive the investigation), whether they (authorities) stop it too soon or not.”

Naggier is one of a few relatives of blast victims who are campaigning for Bitter and advocating for a robust investigation. In recent weeks, he has repeatedly protested outside the Justice Palace and the parliament building in Beirut, demanding a continuation of the investigation.

Some politicians have challenged Bitter in court, accusing him of violating the constitution or showing favoritism. There were also reports of threats against the judge and the government pledged to increase his security in late 2021.

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Bitar was also challenged by some family members of blast victims, including Ibrahim Hotet, who lost his younger brother in the blast. Hoteit had said that Bitar had become an obstacle in finding out the truth in the case.

Bitar has been the subject of harsh criticism by Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah described Bitar’s investigation as a “big mistake” and said it was biased. They demanded the removal of Bitter from the authorities.

Bitter is the second judge to take up the case. The first judge, Fadi Sawan, was ousted following complaints of favoritism by two cabinet ministers. If the same happens with Bitter, it could be the final blow to the investigation.

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