Lebanese judge lashes out at top officials over port blast Middle East news

Tarek Bitar’s decision will include senior security officials and politicians, including interim Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

A Lebanese judge investigating the Beirut port explosion last year announced legal proceedings against a number of politicians and security chiefs, including the acting prime minister, a judicial source reported on Friday. state news agency.

The move – some 11 months after the explosion – was hailed by the families of the victims and survivors as a bold step by Judge Tarek Bitar.

Judge Bitar, who became the lead investigator into the blast after his predecessor was impeached in February, will summon acting prime minister Hassan Diab and others, the agency said, though she said ‘no date had yet been set.

Bitar also asked the government and the Interior Ministry for permission to interrogate two of Lebanon’s most prominent security chiefs – the head of the General Security Directorate, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, and the Head of State Security, Major General Tony Saliba.

In addition, he asked Parliament to lift the immunity of two lawmakers indicted by his predecessor and a former Minister of the Interior.

Entire neighborhoods destroyed in Beirut port explosion [File: Hannah McKay/Reuters]

Bitar also lodged a complaint against the former army commander, Gen. Jean Kahwaji and the former head of military intelligence, Brigadier-General Kameel Daher, as well as two other retired intelligence generals, and said that ‘he would also sue the judges.

At least 211 people died in the August 4 explosion when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored dangerously for years, exploded in the capital’s port. Some 6,500 people were injured and entire neighborhoods destroyed.

The explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions on record and the most destructive incident in the troubled history of Lebanon.

‘There is hope’

William Noon, whose brother Joe, a firefighter, was killed when the massive blaze that led to the port blast was put out, said Bitar was starting to keep his promises.

“Today I felt that there was hope and that we were going somewhere,” he told the Associated Press news agency, adding that the accusations made by Bitar were similar to those of its predecessor – an indication that these people were apparently to blame.

Noon, however, said he expected interference from politicians, adding that the families of the victims plan to take to the streets if Bitar is not allowed to continue his work.

It was not immediately clear whether Diab would agree to be questioned by Bitar, after refusing to be questioned by former prosecutor Fadi Sawwan last December.

In an interview with the PA late last year, Diab, who resigned following the blast, said he was being singled out and charged while others knew more, the calling it “evil”.

He formally asked the Parliament to lift the immunity of three legislators: the former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil, the former Minister of Public Works Ghazi Zeiter and the former Minister of the Interior Nouhad Machnouk. He also asked the bar for permission to question former Minister of Public Works Youssef Fenianos.

Machines are operating at the site of buildings that collapsed by the explosion in the city’s port area [File: Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

ANI said they would be questioned about possible intentional crimes of murder and neglect. The families of the victims and the survivors of the blast have accused the ruling political class of corruption and negligence which led to the explosion of ammonium nitrate.

Ali Hassan Khalil and Zeiter are members of the bloc of the powerful Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri, and along with the Fenianos are strong allies of the Hezbollah group.

Bitar was appointed to lead the investigation in February after Sawwan was removed from his post following court challenges from senior officials he accused of negligence that led to the explosion.

In mid-April, Bitar ordered the release of six people, including security guards, who had been imprisoned for months.

Among those released was an officer who had written a detailed warning to senior officials before the explosion about the dangers of equipment stored in the port.

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