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Beirut port explosion

Six people detained over the Beirut port blast will be freed

Six people detained over the Beirut port blast will be freed

The Aug. 4 blast heavily damaged Beirut’s port and surrounding neighborhoods, killing more than 200 people and wounding thousands. (Credit: João Sousa/L’Orient Today)

BEIRUT — The lead investigator into the Beirut port explosion on Thursday ordered the release of six out of 25 detainees who have been held in connection with the blast for almost eight months, a judicial source confirmed to L’Orient Today.

Among those released were two majors, despite a previous report from state media that 11 detainees being considered for release were “low-ranking” employees and uniformed officials of the rank of warrant officer and below.

The investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, approved the release of State Security Maj. Joseph Naddaf, General Security Maj. Charbel Fawaz, customs staff sergeants Elias Chahine and Khaled al-Khatib, and port workers Johnny Gerges and Mikhael Murr, the judicial source said.

As majors, Naddaf and Fawaz are mid-level officers, outranking warrant officers.

In a May 2020 report, Naddaf had raised red flags regarding the storage conditions of the ammonium nitrate at the port, which prompted the public prosecutor to begin securing the premises. Yet the whistle-blower, who headed the port’s State Security office, was detained, spending the last eight months in the custody of his security agency.

Requests for the release of the remaining 19 detainees, including Customs chief Badri Daher, were rejected. The judicial source said that it is likely that Bitar will continue questioning them and that they will remain detained until further notice.

On Aug. 4, some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate carelessly stored in a warehouse at the Beirut port since 2014 led to one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded, killing over 200 people and wounding thousands. The cause of the fire that ignited the explosive chemical remains unknown to the public, despite months of investigation.

Bitar’s predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawwan, detained the 25 people shortly after the catastrophic blast. Most are mid- to low-level customs, port and security officials. The details of each detainee’s charges remain unknown.

Sawwan was abruptly removed from the probe after two former ministers he had charged with criminal negligence requested that the case be transferred to a new judge. The decision led to an outcry, particularly by victims’ families, who feared that Sawwan’s removal would take the case back to square one.

During one of his initial conversations with the families of the victims of the explosion, Bitar vowed not to leave anyone innocent behind bars. The judge completed the initial round of questioning of the 25 detainees in late March.


BEIRUT — The lead investigator into the Beirut port explosion on Thursday ordered the release of six out of 25 detainees who have been held in connection with the blast for almost eight months, a judicial source confirmed to L’Orient Today.Among those released were two majors, despite a previous report from state media that 11 detainees being considered for release were...