FBI to join Beirut blast probe: US envoy

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 14 2020 04:12 AM

BEIRUT - The FBI will join investigators probing the cause of the huge port blast that destroyed swathes of Beirut, the top career diplomat at the US State Department said Thursday.

"The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators, at the invitation of the Lebanese, in order to help answer questions that I know everyone has about the circumstances that led up to this explosion," David Hale told reporters during a tour of a heavily damaged neighborhood near the port.

Lebanese authorities have pledged a swift investigation into the massive explosion at Beirut's port on August 4 that devastated swathes of the city and killed at least 171 people.

A judicial official said Wednesday that the prosecution would question several ministers and former ministers over the disaster.

World leaders, international organizations and a seething Lebanese public have pressed for an international probe, but President Michel Aoun has said that calls for such an investigation are a "waste of time." 

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said last week that French citizens were injured in the blast and prosecutors had opened a probe into "negligent injury" using their jurisdiction to investigate acts committed abroad.

Lebanese are furious at a political leadership that allowed a large shipment of hazardous ammonium nitrate fertilizer to languish for years in a port warehouse despite repeated safety warnings.

Many want heads to roll over the tragedy they see as shocking proof of the rot at the core of their political system.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his government's resignation on Monday but it remains to be seen whether new faces are brought in or members of Lebanon's entrenched ruling class are brought back.

Hale, who is undersecretary of state for political affairs, said the US was "ready to support a Lebanese government that reflects and responds to the will of the people and genuinely commits and acts for real change."

He is expected to meet with Lebanese officials and civil society representatives on Friday.