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2 years later, hope for justice in the Beirut explosion is fading


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

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

In fact, some of those accused in the investigation were re-elected to parliament earlier this year.

Even though the destroyed port silos have been burning for weeks – a fire ignited by the fermenting grain still inside – authorities appear to have given up trying to put out the blaze. A section of the silos collapsed in a huge cloud of dust 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, exploded in the port. “It’s as if my daughter had just been hit by a car.”

The explosion caused a pressure 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 glass, furniture and other debris flying. 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 was shipped to Lebanon in 2013 and improperly stored in a port warehouse ever since. Senior political and security officials were aware of his presence but did nothing.

The political leaders of the Lebanese factions, who have shared power for decades, have closed ranks to thwart any responsibility.

Tarek Bitar, the judge in charge of the investigation, charged four former senior government officials with intentional homicide and negligence resulting in the deaths of dozens of people. He also indicted several senior security officials in the case.

But his work has been stalled for eight months pending a Court of Cassation ruling after three former Cabinet ministers filed legal appeals. The court cannot rule until a certain number of posts left vacant by the retirement of judges are filled. The appointments, signed by the Minister of Justice, are still awaiting the approval of the Minister of Finance, an ally of the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.

Forensic officials familiar with Bitar’s investigation told The Associated Press that it is in an advanced stage of answering key questions, including who the nitrates belonged to, how they entered the port and how the explosion occurred. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.

Bitar is the second judge to take the case. The first judge was kicked out after complaints were made against him by two cabinet ministers, and if the same happened to Bitar, it would likely be the deathblow to the investigation.

The absence of justice aggravates the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims of the explosion. They feel let down and let down, not just by the government but by public apathy over the months and years.

At first, after the explosion, there were large demonstrations and sit-ins demanding justice. This raised hopes that Lebanese politicians could be held accountable.

But public fervor waned as Lebanese became absorbed in surviving the country’s economic collapse. In addition, deadly shootings erupted last year between Hezbollah supporters protesting Bitar and members of a Christian faction, raising fears that an urgent investigation could push Lebanon into a factional conflict.

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

Families remain devastated by grief.

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

When they first heard explosions coming from the harbour, her father led the family into the entrance hall of their apartment, believing it would be safe as there were no windows. But the blast ripped the front door off its hinges and sent a cupboard slamming shut in the old Ladkani. He was in a coma for weeks with a cerebral hemorrhage. He died 31 days later.

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

“We still can’t remember and we can’t get together as a family,” he said. “My brothers and uncles have my dad’s photos as their profile picture. I do not know. Every time I remember my father, I crumble.

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

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

One of the politicians charged and re-elected, former public works minister Ghazi Zeiter, told the AP he had the right to run again in the legislative elections because there is no court verdict against him. He said Bitar had no right to indict him because lawmakers and ministers had a special court where they were usually tried.

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

In mid-July, families filed a $250 million lawsuit against a US-Norwegian company, TGS, suspected of involvement in bringing the explosive material to the port. TGS denied any wrongdoing.

Naggear said his family, two other individuals and the Bar Association have filed a complaint in Britain against the London-registered chemicals trading company Savaro Ltd., which according to investigative journalists in Lebanon , chartered the cargo, intending to transport the nitrates from Georgia to an explosive. company in Mozambique.

Naggear said he was losing hope.

He and his wife, who has dual Lebanese-Canadian nationality, had considered leaving Lebanon after the explosion. But the large public protests that immediately followed gave them hope that change was possible.

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

Yet they swear to continue 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 (Alexandra’s) good until we achieve truth and justice,” Naggear said.

The Naggears fixed their apartment, but they haven’t stayed there since Axel was born, fearing it’s still unsafe.

The fire burning in the ruins of the grain silos only fuels the sense of danger. A northern section of the structure collapsed on Sunday, and experts say other parts are at risk of falling. At night, orange flames can be seen licking at the base of the north silo, glowing eerily in the dark.


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