2 years later, hope for justice fades in Beirut explosion

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BEIRUT (TBEN) – It has been two years since his 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra, was killed in a massive explosion in the port of Beirut – and Paul Naggear has lost hope that outrage over the disaster will bring justice and change Lebanon.

The investigation into one of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosions has been blocked for months by Lebanon’s political powers. Many blame the long-standing corruption and mismanagement of the Lebanese government for the tragedy, but the elite’s decades-old power lock has made them untouchable.

Some of the suspects in the investigation were re-elected to parliament earlier this year.

Even as the wrecked silos in the harbor have been burning for weeks — a fire ignited by the fermenting grains still inside — authorities seemed to have given up on efforts to put out the blaze. Some of the silos collapsed in a huge dust cloud on Sunday.

“It’s been two years and nothing has happened,” Naggear said of the August 4, 2020 disaster, when hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, detonated in the port. “It’s like my daughter just got hit by a car.”

The blast set off a blast wave that shattered everything in its path through the capital.

Naggear, his wife, Tracy Awad, and little Alexandra were in their apartment overlooking the harbor when the massive force sent flying glass, furniture, and other debris. Naggear and his wife suffered cuts and bruises. Alexandra, or Lexou, as they called her, was seriously injured and died in hospital.

She was the second youngest victim of the explosion, which killed more than 215 people and injured more than 6,000.

It later emerged that the ammonium nitrate had been shipped to Lebanon in 2013 and had been incorrectly stored in a port warehouse since then. Senior political and security officials knew of his presence but did nothing.

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The political leaders of the factions in Lebanon, which have divided power among themselves for decades, have closed ranks to thwart any accountability.

Tarek Bitar, the judge who led the investigation, charged four former senior government officials with willful murder and negligence that led to the deaths of dozens of people. He has also charged several top security officials in the case.

But his work has been blocked for eight months pending a ruling from the Supreme Court after three former cabinet ministers took legal action. The court can only rule if a number of vacancies caused by resigning judges have been filled. The appointments, signed by the justice minister, are awaiting approval from the finance minister, an ally of parliament speaker Nabih Berri.

Judicial officials who were aware of Bitar’s investigation told The The Bharat Express News that it was well advanced in answering key questions, including who owned the nitrates, how they entered the port and how the explosion occurred. . They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Bitar is the second judge to hear the case. The first judge was forced to leave after complaints were filed against him by two cabinet ministers, and if the same happens to Bitar, it would likely be the final blow to the investigation.

The lack of justice exacerbates the pain of relatives and friends of victims of explosions. They feel abandoned and let down, not only by the government, but also by public apathy as the months and years drag on.

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Initially, after the explosion, there were major protests and sit-ins demanding justice. It raised hopes that Lebanese politicians can be held accountable.

But public zeal waned as the Lebanese were preoccupied with surviving the country’s economic collapse. Deadly gunfights also broke out last year between Hezbollah supporters protesting Bitar and members of a Christian faction, raising fears that the insistence of the investigation could drive Lebanon into factional conflict.

Now only a handful of people show up at protests and sit-ins organized by relatives of the victims.

Families continue to be plagued by grief.

For Muhieddine Ladkani, whose father, Mohammed, was murdered, time has stood still.

When they first heard explosions coming from the harbor, his father took the family into the hall of their apartment, believing it would be safe because there were no windows. But the blast tore the front door off its hinges and sent a closet slamming into the elder Ladkani. He was in a coma for weeks with a brain haemorrhage. He died 31 days later.

Ladkani, a 29-year-old law student, said his family still can’t talk about that day.

“We still can’t remember and we can’t get together as a family,” he said. “My brothers and uncles have my father’s pictures as their profile picture. Not me. Whenever I remember my father, I collapse.”

“It’s something I don’t want to believe. I can’t live with it,” Ladkani said. Those who voted for the politicians indicted in the disaster are also responsible for his father’s death, he added.

“The ink on the fingers of the voters who voted for them is not ink, but the blood of the victims,” ​​Ladkani said.

One of the indicted and re-elected politicians, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeiter, told the TBEN he had the right to run for parliament again because there is no court sentence against him. He said Bitar has no right to indict him because lawmakers and ministers have a special court where they are usually tried.

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Amid the deadlock, the families of some victims are turning to courts outside Lebanon.

In mid-July, families filed a $250 million lawsuit against a US-Norwegian firm, TGS, suspected of being involved in bringing the explosive material to port. TGS denies any allegation.

Naggear said his family, two others and the British Bar Association have filed a lawsuit against London-registered chemical trading company Savaro Ltd. company in Mozambique.

Naggear said he’s losing hope.

He and his wife, who is a bipartisan Lebanese-Canadian citizen, had considered leaving Lebanon after the blast. But the massive public protests in the immediate aftermath gave them hope that change was possible.

But after the results of this year’s parliamentary elections, they are seriously considering leaving again.

Yet they promise to keep working for justice. At a recent sit-in, they showed up with their 4-month-old baby, Axel.

“They’re trying to make us forget…but we won’t stop, for the sake of (Alexandra) until we achieve truth and justice,” Naggear said.

The Naggears repaired their apartment, but haven’t stayed there since Axel’s birth, fearing it still wasn’t safe.

The fire that burns in the ruins of the grain silos only feeds the sense of danger. A northern part of the structure collapsed on Sunday, and experts say more parts are at risk of falling. At night, orange flames can be seen licking at the base of the northern silo, glowing eerily in the darkness.