An independent processing of the explosion in Beirut’s port seems unlikely. Political wrangling overshadows the investigation.
Two weeks after the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut, the judiciary’s investigations are stalled. The government had promised a quick clarification of the events and a judge issued a second warrant against the port management after a first arrest warrant against the port’s chief customs officer on Tuesday. Nevertheless, the investigators have so far hardly been able to come up with information and explanations.
Rather, the reappraisal of political friction surrounding the appointment of the chief investigator is characterized by threats by the armed forces against possible informants and by a committee whose confessional composition has been partisan from the start.
Activists, relatives of the victims and survivors had called for an independent investigation. They doubt that the denominational political groups will publish results if they could harm them themselves. “Is it acceptable today that people’s houses are destroyed, their families killed, their hopes and dreams killed as well, without justice, with complete impunity?” Asked the survivor Paul Najjar and asked the UN Security Council for international support.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch also called for independent, international participation in the process of coming to terms with the “repeated failures of the Lebanese authorities to investigate serious government failures”.
Politically speaking, Lebanon is largely at a standstill these days. The government resigned six days after the explosion and is therefore only taking on the most essential government business. The last official act she had commissioned the country’s highest judicial council to investigate what had happened. It is the highest court in the country that handles national security cases. The council consists of ten people, eight of whom are selected according to religious affiliation according to the political system in Lebanon.
The temporary Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm has meanwhile flown to Paris – for “private reasons”, as the local TV station MTV reports. She previously failed to appoint a clerk – reason enough for the judiciary to refer the case to the Lebanese military tribunal.
In the days before, there was political tussle over the chief investigator for days. Although Najm proposed a candidate, this was rejected by the Judicial Council without explanation. Initially, Fadi Akiki was installed – the husband of the niece of the parliament speaker. However, after public criticism, the former military judge Fadi Sawan took over the post of chief investigator.
Sawan is known to the public for accusing activist Kinda el Khatib of collaborating with Israel. The activist is a strong critic of Hezbollah and President Michel Aoun. She denied the allegations but was arrested anyway.
In the investigation into the explosion, Sawan issued an arrest warrant for the port’s chief customs officer. In addition, 19 suspects were arrested in the course of the investigation, including the predecessor of the customs chief and the port director.
While there are no tangible results on the Lebanese side, there is great international interest in the investigation. Police officers and forensic scientists from France inspected the underwater crater at the detonation point in the port and took samples of the explosive substances.
They also want to make their results available to the Lebanese judges. The experts can only work at the invitation of the host country, but the French authorities have stated that Lebanon will give them access. It is not known whether they also question witnesses or request documents. The French authorities cited the death of the Franco-Lebanese architect Jean-Marc Bonfils as the reason for their interest.
The Lebanese President Michel Aoun called international investigations a “waste of time”. “The demands for an international investigation into the port explosion are aimed at covering up the truth,” he told the media.
The explosion is considered an accident, but it is still unclear what triggered the detonation. Meanwhile, documents have surfaced showing that the country’s leaders knew of the potential danger.