24 Jan 2023, 18:11

Lebanon top prosecutor, judges charged over Beirut blast: official

BEIRUT, Jan 24, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - The Lebanese judge probing the devastating 
Beirut port blast has charged Prosecutor General Ghassan Oueidat and three 
judges, a first in the country's history, a judicial official told AFP on 

Judge Tarek Bitar decided Monday to resume his probe into the deadly August 
2020 mega-explosion despite strong political pressure that had led to a 
suspension of his work for more than a year. 

On Tuesday, he charged eight more figures, including Lebanon's top prosecutor 
Oueidat and the three judges, with "homicide, arson and sabotage", said the 
judicial official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

One of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions destroyed most of Beirut port 
and surrounding areas on August 4, 2020, killing more than 215 people and 
injuring over 6,500.

The blast was caused by a fire in a warehouse where a vast stockpile of the 
industrial chemical ammonium nitrate had been haphazardly stored for years, 
authorities said.

According to the judicial official, Oueidat had in 2019 overseen a security 
services investigation into cracks in the warehouse where the ammonium 
nitrate was stored.

In total, 13 people are being prosecuted, including five officials whom Bitar 
indicted earlier, among them former prime minister Hassan Diab and former 

Relatives of the dead have been holding monthly vigils ever since the 
disaster, seeking justice and accountability.

Many families have placed their hopes in Bitar, who has however faced legal 
challenges, delays and strong resistance from the powerful Shiite Muslim 
movement Hezbollah and its allies who accuse him of political bias.

Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal called for demonstrations to demand 
his dismissal in October 2021, when a gun battle broke out at a Beirut rally 
and seven people were killed.

Reopening the case Monday after a 13-month suspension, Bitar charged an 
initial eight suspects, including General Security head Abbas Ibrahim and 
State Security agency chief Tony Saliba, and released five others.

In Lebanon, state institutions have been reluctant to cooperate with the 
domestic probe, which began the same month as the explosion.

In February 2021, Bitar's predecessor as lead judge was removed from the case 
after he had charged high-level politicians.

The interior ministry has also failed to execute arrest warrants issued by 
Bitar, further undermining his quest for accountability.

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