Beirut: Lebanon’s Prosecutor-General Ghassan Oueidat has filed charges against the judge leading the investigation into the 2020 Port of Beirut blasts and released all the 17 suspects in connection with devastating explosions that killed at least 218 people.
The prosecutor accused Tarek Bitar of “abusing power” by resuming his work despite the several complaints filed against him, reports Xinhua news agency.
The investigation was suspended in December 2021 after a series of complaints were filed against Bitar, forcing him to halt his probe.
He resumed his work on Monday after a 13-month suspension.
In response to Oueidat’s accusation, Bitar said he won’t step down and will continue with his “responsibilities as investigative judge”.
Upon returning to the office on Monday, Bitar ordered the release of five detained suspects and announced his plan to press charges against others.
On Tuesday, he charged former prime minister Hassan Diab and two former ministers with homicide with probable intent.
He also charged chief of Lebanese General Security Abbas Ibrahim, State Security director Tony Saliba, and former army commander Jean Kahwaji in connection.
Meanwhile, families of the blast victims were angered by Oueidat’s decision to release all the suspects and staged protests in Baabda, the capital of Mount Lebanon Governorate.
Primary investigations into the blast revealed that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate (equivalent to around 1.1 kilotons of TNT) stored since 2014 in a warehouse at the port caused the explosions, which injured 7,000 people, caused $15 billion in property damage, and left estimated 300,000 others homeless.
The substance was stored at the warehouse after being confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus.
The explosion was preceded by a fire in the same warehouse.
The blast was so powerful that it physically shook the whole country of Lebanon.
It was felt in Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, as well as parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus, more than 240 km away.
It was detected by the US Geological Survey as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3 and is considered one of the most powerful accidental artificial non-nuclear explosions in history.