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Beirut Blast Investigations Expand, Terrorism Not Ruled out

Beirut Blast Investigations Expand, Terrorism Not Ruled out

Saturday, 8 August, 2020 - 05:30
The site of the Beirut port blast. (AFP)

The Lebanese judiciary expanded on Friday the scope of its investigation into the massive blast at Beirut port, which left more than 170 people dead and thousands wounded.

Investigators have probed employees and managers at the port, as well as senior officials at the facility, including its director Hassan Koreitem.

Judge Fadi Akiki ordered that he remain in custody for more questioning. Others included in the probe are the customs department and members of port security agencies.

The probe is considering multiple scenarios that caused the blast, including terrorism.

Three days of investigations have led to the arrest of 21 people, who will remain in custody for further questioning. A judicial source revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that more people will be arrested and senior officials will not be spared.

The responsibility for such a massive disaster does not lie on port employees, but it falls on senior officials. They include port and customs authorities, relevant security agencies and ministers and politicians who knew about the ammonium nitrate shipment from the moment it was dropped off at the port in 2014 and until it blew up on Tuesday, it added.

Everyone who knew about the explosive material and neglected to address the issue, both deliberately or inadvertently, will be held to account, he stressed.

‘No political over’

The government’s decision to include suspected officials in the investigation committee has raised eyebrows. They include chief of the customs department Badri Daher, who is affiliated with President Michel Aoun.

The judicial source stressed that the panel will carry out an administrative investigation. Some members of the committee will be questioned, including Daher.

“No one will enjoy political protection, regardless of their rank,” it added.

Daher told The Associated Press on Thursday that he and his predecessor sent six letters, the last of which was in 2017, to a judge, warning repeatedly that the huge 2,700 ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in the port was a danger. They had asked judicial officials for a ruling on a way to remove it.

Daher said it was his duty to “alert” authorities of the dangers but that is the most he could do.

Everyone who has been put in custody or summoned for questioning again knew that the dangerous material was being stored at the port, the judicial source stressed. “Everyone who received letters about the issue and did not take steps to remove the material from the port will be detained and criminally tried,” he explained. This is not just about negligence or dereliction of duty.

Multiple possibilities

Concerned authorities have yet to uncover what caused the ammonium nitrate to blow up, but a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the technical probe was close to reaching a lead.

He firmly ruled out the possibility that the warehouse was targeted by a missile, but did not rule out the possibility of some “security act” that led to the detonation of the material.

He said that the welding work at the warehouse could not have detonated the material, explaining that it was not that easy to detonate ammonium nitrate. It needs heat of up to 220 degrees to set it off.

The investigation is narrowing down the possibilities to some form of heat leaking into the warehouse. It is also considering that terrorism may be involved, saying the material may have been deliberately detonated.

Further investigations are needed over why the nitrogen levels were at a high 34.7 percent. Such high levels are used for the manufacturing of explosives and serve no other purpose, said the security source. One possibility is that the material was detonated by a fuse that leads to the warehouse.

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