On 4 August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, exploded, causing at least 204 deaths, 6,500 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The lead investigator charged outgoing premier Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with negligence Thursday, a judicial source said.
They are the first politicians to be indicted over the devastating blast that killed more than 200 people, disfigured the heart of the capital, and ignited a wave of public anger against Lebanon’s ruling elite.
The charges come four months after the catastrophic explosion on 4 August and amid fears that there has been little progress in the investigation into what caused it. Caretaker PM, Hassan Diab, and former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zaiter, and Youssef Fenianos were accused of failing to respond to warnings ahead of the disaster that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at the port posed a growing danger to residents.
As per reports, It is not clear what triggered the detonation of the material, but government officials have said that they have not ruled out sabotage. Two of the ex-ministers indicted — former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works minister Youssef Fenianos — were recently sanctioned by the Trump administration for links to Hezbollah.
Diab is the only one of four prime ministers in office since the nitrate arrived in Beirut in late 2013 to have been charged in connection with it. The stockpile remained a contentious issue for the three other leaders – all established political figures, unlike Diab, who was picked from academia in October 2019.
Lebanese officials have rejected an international probe, despite demands both at home and abroad for an impartial investigation. Experts from France and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation took part in the preliminary investigation.
The nitrate was seized from a Russian freighter, which had made an unscheduled stop in Beirut while en route to Mozambique to deliver the load to a mining company.
Four months after one of the largest non-nuclear explosions on record, victims are still awaiting the result of the investigation. Lebanese leaders had promised it would come within days. The explosion added to the challenges facing Lebanon, where decades of waste and corruption have triggered the country’s worst-ever financial crisis.