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Beirut Blast Case Referred to Supreme Judicial Council

Beirut Blast Case Referred to Supreme Judicial Council

Monday, 10 August, 2020 - 10:45
A Lebanese flag flies on a bridge near the port of Lebanon's capital Beirut, amid the destruction of Tuesday's explosion that killed over 150 people. (AFP)

The Beirut blast case was referred on Monday to the Supreme Judicial Council, which handles crimes infringing on Lebanon’s national security as well as political and state security crimes.


The referral was the government’s last move before Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced its resignation on Monday evening.


The Supreme Judicial Council is Lebanon’s top judicial body.


The catastrophic explosion is believed to have been caused by a fire that ignited a 2,750-ton stockpile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate. The material had been stored at the port since 2013 with few safeguards despite numerous warnings of the danger.


The result was a disaster Lebanese blame squarely on their leadership’s corruption and neglect. Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion, with nearly 300,000 people left homeless.


A judge on Monday questioned the heads of the country’s security agencies. Public Prosecutor Ghassan El Khoury questioned Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba, the head of State Security, according to state-run National News Agency. It gave no further details, but other generals are scheduled to be questioned.


State Security had compiled a report about the dangers of storing the material at the port and sent a copy to the offices of the president and prime minister on July 20. The investigation is focused on how the ammonium nitrate came to be stored at the port and why nothing was done about it.


Caretaker Public Works Minister Michel Najjar said he learned about the material’s presence 24 hours before the blast, receiving a report about the material and holding a meeting with port officials before calling its chief, Hassan Korayetem.


“I wrote a report in the morning the explosion happened in the evening,” Najjar said. Asked why he only learned of it the day before, Najjar said, “I don’t know. Truly I don’t know.”


About 20 people have been detained after the blast, including the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor, as well as the head of the port. Dozens of people have been questioned, including two former Cabinet ministers, according to government officials.


On Sunday, world leaders and international organizations pledged nearly $300 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Beirut, but warned that no money for rebuilding the capital would be made available until Lebanese authorities commit themselves to the political and economic reforms demanded by the people.


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