One of the biggest questions that is on every Lebanese citizen’s mind today regarding the Beirut explosion is: Who is responsible?
It’s become clear that the massive ammonium nitrate stash that caused the disaster had been stored in the Port of Beirut for around 6 years.
Meanwhile, the typical political blame game replaces any fruitful conversation to determine responsibilities.
As the investigations progress to answer this question, new documents revealed by Reuters indicate that the Lebanese President and the now-caretaker Prime Minister had been aware of the presence of the hazard in the Port.
According to these documents, President Michel Aoun and caretaker PM Hassan Diab were both informed last month that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in the Port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded.
This happened two weeks before it was too late to act; before the security risk did actualize and the capital was indeed partially destroyed.
Diab and Aoun were informed via a private letter sent to them on July 20th.
While Reuters did not see the letter’s content, it was referenced by a State Security report that the news agency did see.
Moreover, a senior security official said that the unseen letter summed up the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January, which concluded that the chemicals needed to be secured immediately.
“There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack,” the security official told Reuters.
“I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded,” the official added.
It’s important to note that within 48 hours after receiving the warning, Diab sent it to the Higher Defense Council for advice.
In turn, Aoun said last week that he had directed the secretary-general of the Council, which the President heads, to “do what’s necessary,” affirming: “I am not responsible!”
“I have no authority to deal with the Port directly. There is a hierarchy and all those who knew should have known their duties to do the necessary,” the President told reporters.
The aforementioned private letter is not the only correspondence relating to the dangerous material, however.
Over the course of 6 years, according to the security report, several requests were submitted to Lebanese courts by different customs and security officials, urging them to order the removal of the ammonium nitrate, but to no avail.
The reason why 6 years weren’t enough for the responsible authorities, judicial or otherwise, to take action against what is practically a timebomb in Beirut remains unclear.
Perhaps the preceding decades of mismanagement and corruption had trained them that negligence was the solution to their country’s pressing problems and that the consequences of their negligence would be diverted away from them.