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The Lebanese prosecutor orders the release of those detained from the blast at the port

Remark

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s top prosecutor on Wednesday ordered the release of all suspects detained in the deadly 2020 Beirut port explosion, a lawyer for two detainees and judicial officials said.

Chief Prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat’s step is another blow to the investigation, which has been at a standstill for years. The investigation has threatened to upset Lebanon’s ruling elite, which is rife with corruption and mismanagement, sending the country into an unprecedented economic collapse.

The decision came after Judge Tarek Bitar resumed the investigation into the devastating blast at the port on Monday, following a 13-month halt due to legal challenges raised by politicians accused in the investigation, including the chief prosecutor.

Seventeen detainees have been in pre-trial detention for years after the massive explosion at the port on August 4, 2020. hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, exploded at the port of Beirut, killing 218 people and more than 6,000 were injured and damaging large parts of the Lebanese capital.

Lawyer Sakher El Hachem, representing two detainees, told The Associated Press that after checking with the judiciary, they have received confirmation of the decision and will be released on Wednesday.

Court officials added that Ouweidat, who defied Bitar’s decision to resume the paralyzed investigation, will file charges against him. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Ouweidat did not immediately respond to calls from the AP about this.

Judge Bitar is the second investigator to lead the investigation into the port blast and has charged more than a dozen senior political, security, port and security officials.

On Monday, Bitar ordered the release of five of the 17 detainees in the case and charged eight officials, including top intelligence officials Major General Abbas Ibrahim and Major General Tony Saliba, as well as Oweidat.

The judge also summoned at least 14 politicians and judicial, security and customs officials for questioning in February. Senior officials have repeatedly refused to appear for questioning since the investigation began.

Bitar took up his position following the February 2021 resignation of Judge Fadi Sawwan over complaints of bias by two cabinet ministers, and if he is also removed it could be the final blow to the investigation.

The Lebanese political leadership has accused Bitar of bias in his investigation without evidence, with some demanding his removal.

Associated Press writers Abby Sewell and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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