Hanna Saleh

The Beirut Blast Crime: The Investigation is Under Siege

The investigation into the horrifying explosion that destroyed Beirut is under siege, although it came down on half the capital and inflicted injuries and traumas that people will not recover from for a long time.

The influential parties are dying to obstruct it and hinder the prosecution of the politicians who were proved to be suspects by the initial interrogations. They invoked their parliamentary immunity on the one hand and took advantage of the lockdown imposed by the dangerous spread of coronavirus on the other… Both provided pretexts for “putting limitations” on the dangerous trial of the biggest crime in Lebanon's history and perhaps among the world’s biggest.

On the surface, the aspects of this siege seem convincing. However, they coincide with the disclosure of many findings that would light up the investigation and reveal the truth, thereby preventing this crime from being pinned on an unknown. The most prominent of these findings are those about the owners of the ship of death and those that followed these revelations. They add a lot of input, dimensions and depth to our understanding of lawless criminality in Lebanon, which has been forcibly transformed into a backyard where the genocidal war waged against the Syrian people finds support, making the Lebanese pay more of the costs of a regional project that has nothing to do with them.

Three weeks ago, former MP Walid Jumblatt revealed that the ship of death belonged to the Syrian regime and announced that the ship, “Roussos”, arrived in Beirut (October 2013) because of the infeasibility of transporting “ammonium nitrate”- which had been used in the manufacture of barrel bombs- from Syrian ports to the country. At the time, the battle of Homs was at its height, and the roads on the coast were cut off militarily, while those that connected Beirut and Damascus were open! Documented facts followed, revealing that three Russian-Syrian “merchants”, George Haswani and Jihad and Mudalal Khoury- who have been, since 2014, internationally sanctioned as partners and financiers of Assad’s regime- owned the cargo. This fact was hidden for seven years, although identifying ownership is supposed to be among the most straightforward tasks of those in charge of Beirut port, including customs, administration, and security.

Investigating the Ammonium Nitrate shipment’s real owners, their motives, and their partners is possible then. And this isn’t a theoretical issue, as we could use international powers’ help in matters that Lebanese investigators do not have the capacity for. The most prominent of these is the French investigation into the explosion which killed French citizens and injured over 40 French UNIFIL forces. That investigation could be among the most prominent safeguards of arriving at justice because it could shed light on several Lebanese elements. In other words, it holds the key to exposing Lebanese partners of the merchants of death, which would facilitate the exposition of everyone implicated, as well as their positions and prerogatives. But we should not rule out the possibility of attempts to disrupt the investigation by placing it in the corridors of the Lebanese division.

Here, it is useful to go back to the time the unprecedented catastrophe struck. That day, Hezbollah, through its secretary-general, rushed to claim its innocence and exonerate Israel. He almost went as far as saying he doesn’t know where the port is. He also refused an international investigation. The Lebanese president agreed with him under the pretext that Lebanon cannot handle an extension to the time needed for the investigation. And it is worth pointing out that MP Gebran Bassil immediately demanded that the truth of how the explosion occurred, thereby allowing the pressure to limit the investigation to administrative errors and negligence to crystalize. And the moment the judicial investigator announced suspicions of political and security decision-makers, the ruling clique’s uprising ensured; each party became a reference in the criminal investigation and a judge giving orders to the judicial investigation judge!

The reasons to refuse to retreat are many. Among them is the question of how come the energy ministry (Gebran Bassil at the time), asked for this ship in particular when it wanted to ship exploration equipment to Aqaba in Jordan. How come the ship’s owner happened to refuse to pay the crew’s dues under the pretext that they would receive it from this shipment of equipment, leading it to head to the Port of Beirut? How come the law firm Baroudi & Associates asked that the ship be impounded in the name of a client whom the owner had been indebted to, and the ship was impounded, but the lawsuit was not followed up on? Who is the client? How is it a coincidence that the lawyer is the son of the public works minister (one of the institutions primarily responsible for the port) at the time, Ghazi Zaiter?

What are the facts that were put before the Urgent Matters Judge that he ordered seizing the ship and then demanded that the cargo be unloaded and stored in hangar No. 12? That was on April 27, 2014, more than six months after its arrival! Where was the army, which is concerned with the entry of explosive materials that exceed particular limits? What is the real role of the party that calls the shots: Hezbollah, which controls most of the ports’ hangars and docks? Who silenced all of these sides? The network is extensive, intertwined, and tangled, but the clues to its mysteries are beginning to emerge!

The explosion at the port hit the heart of Beirut, resulting in collective destruction, killing, and losses that increasingly expanded demographic changes that are likely to introduce a chapter in the history of the country’s capital, pre and post-August 4!

And because the repercussions of the investigation’s besiegement are perilous, evading this scenario is beyond necessary. Its implications go far beyond the scope of achieving justice; it will strongly reflect on all the Lebanese’ crisis paths, a crisis in which the country was mortgaged after it had been plundered, impoverished. It has transformed the country into nothing more than an arena where others’ projects are supported, incurring costs on its people that they cannot afford!

Today, in particular, this challenge is becoming far more complicated as Tehran announces its intention to launch an initiative to “establish a defense and security treaty” being prepared by the Iranian parliament. It includes all countries that are subordinates to the “axis of resistance” and comes under the pretext of “warding off the danger that stems from any Israeli aggression.” This implies an exacerbation of the violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and stronger links to its impossible project, “Greater Iran”.

The primary condition for breaking this siege and the chain that the country has been placed in is that the investigation be genuinely supported. The judiciary has the most significant role to play. It must accept its responsibility as a major force in the path to retrieving the hijacked state, especially given what has been said about Judge Sawan’s determination to follow up the investigation. That investigation could end up being an experiment whose result determines whether or not an independent judiciary emerges.

Secondly, there are legal groups and the members of the Beirut Bar Association, which has a history of safeguarding freedom, and has raised a lawsuit, representing over 1,000 of the victimized families. The third of these parties is the people, who did not back down for a second from the slogan they immediately raised, 167 days ago, in the face of the authorities’ failure. As their failure to fulfill their duty to the destroyed capital, whose people have been displaced, continues, and the slogan remains: We will not forget, we will not forgive, and we want truth and justice.