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Lebanon: 5 more arrested in blast probe

Five more suspects have been arrested as part of an investigation into the cause of the 4 August Beirut port explosion 

September 1, 2020 at 1:09 pm

Five more suspects have been arrested as part of an investigation into the cause of the 4 August Beirut port explosion which devastated the city, killing nearly 200 and injuring thousands more, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.

Director of Land and Maritime Transport Abdel Hafiz Kaissi and the Director of the Port Mohammed Al-Mawla were arrested yesterday after facing questioning over their role in storing 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate unsafely in Beirut port for six years.

Three Syrian workers, thought to have been carrying out maintenance to the port’s warehouse 12 hours before the blast, also faced questioning by the investigating judge Fadi Sawan yesterday and were later arrested.

Though the cause of the sparks which set light to the ammonium nitrate remains unknown, observers have posited the theory, sparks from the welding done by the workers during maintenance may have caused the initial fire.

The total number of arrests as part of the probe now stands at 21, only two weeks after the investigation was launched.

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Other detainees include the Director General of Beirut Customs Badri Daher and the Director General of Beirut Port Hassan Qureitem who were both put under house arrest days after the blast and officially arrested two weeks later.

Scant information about the probe has been made available to the media, however, the Washington Post has unearthed evidence that fear the chemicals would be stolen pushed security officials, including Lebanon’s Chief Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, to order the warehouse sealed.

“This substance is dangerous and is used in the manufacture of explosives. If it were stolen, the thief could use it to manufacture explosives,” the Washington Post quoted a report on the matter as saying.

Work to seal the warehouse, which involved fixing a broken door; closing up a hole in the building’s southern wall; and securely locking the rest of the warehouse’s doors, finished only hours before the explosion.

The move meant firefighters, who arrived at the scene to attend a fire in the warehouse minutes before the explosion, were unable to enter the building, fight the blaze and potentially prevent the dangerous chemicals from igniting.

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