In Beirut, a judge at Lebanon’s highest court has temporarily suspended the arrest warrants for two former cabinet ministers in connection with the 2020 Beirut port blast, according to officials on Tuesday.
This devastating explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded globally. Judge Sabbouh Suleiman from the Court of Cassation has lifted the arrest warrants against Youssef Fenianos, the former public works minister, and Ali Hassan Khalil, who served as the former finance minister and is currently a member of parliament. These updates were provided by judicial sources who spoke anonymously by regulations.
In 2021, Judge Tarek Bitar, who has been leading the investigation into the explosion, issued the arrest warrants against Fenianos and Khalil. In response, Fenianos had requested Bitar’s removal due to “legitimate suspicion” regarding his handling of the case. The judge accused Fenianos, Khalil, and two other former senior government officials of intentional killing and negligence, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people in the blast.
The investigation has faced delays and criticism from various quarters, including politicians, security officials, victims’ families, and rights groups. Some have called for Judge Bitar’s removal due to perceived interference in the judicial process.
Despite the issuance of arrest warrants for cabinet ministers and security agency heads, no arrests have been made so far, partly due to political interference.
The United States Treasury imposed sanctions on Fenianos and Khalil in September 2020, accusing them of corruption and providing support to the militant Hezbollah group. Additionally, Bitar had charged and pursued Khalil in the port blast investigation on charges of homicide and criminal negligence.
The August 2020 explosion resulted in at least 218 deaths and over 6,000 injuries, as per an Associated Press tally. It also caused extensive destruction in Beirut, amounting to billions of dollars in damages.
Even after more than three years, there is still no definitive explanation for what triggered the explosion, and no one has been held accountable. Reports from rights groups and local media have revealed that most state officials were aware of the improper storage of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used in fertilizers, at the port for many years.