Beirut port explosion: a timeline of the investigation into the Lebanese disaster

Victims and families have been waiting a year now for the results of an official investigation

Listen to the latest podcast on the Beirut blast here

August 4, 2020

A hangar in Beirut port in which 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored from 2014 explodes, killing at least 214 people and wounding 7,000.

August 10, 2020

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigns following public outcry.

August 14, 2020

The High Judicial Council appoints military investigative judge Fadi Sawan to lead the probe into the explosion.

August 17 – September 2, 2020

Mr Sawan orders the arrest of 25 port employees and mid to low-ranking officials. They are all issued blanket charges.

November 25, 2020

Mr Sawan asks Parliament to investigate 12 current and former ministers for their role in the explosion and then to refer them to a special court for the trial of presidents and ministers. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri refuses to act.

December 10, 2020

Mr Sawan charges caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former public works ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Fenianos with negligence.

Former prime ministers, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti, the highest Sunni Muslim cleric in the country, and Iran-backed political party Hezbollah support the charged politicians.

Mr Zeaiter and Mr Khalil file a lawsuit with the Court of Cassation to remove Mr Sawan from the investigation, claiming he was neither neutral nor objective. Mr Sawan pauses the investigation.

February 18, 2021

The Court of Cassation removes Mr Sawan from the probe.

February 19, 2021

The High Judicial Court replaces Mr Sawan with judge Tarek Bitar, the head of Beirut’s criminal court. Mr Bitar refused the post when he was offered it in August but did not provide further information at the time.

April 15, 2021

Mr Bitar orders the release of six detainees in pre-trial detention.

June 23, 2021

Mr Bitar orders the release of another two detainees, so 17 remain in pre-trial detention, which has no time limit.

July 2, 2021

Mr Bitar asks Parliament to lift the immunity of sitting MPs and former ministers Mr Khalil, Mr Zeaiter and former interior minister Nohad Machnouk. Parliament has not yet responded and asked for more proof from Mr Bitar. He refused.

Mr Bitar asks caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fehmi for the authorization to question Major General Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security.

Mr Bitar asks Mr Diab to interrogate the head of State Security, Tony Saliba. Mr Diab has not yet answered.

July 9, 2021

Mr Fehmi refuses Mr Bitar’s request to interrogate Maj Gen Ibrahim. Families protest outside his house. Cassation Attorney General Ghassan Khoury told Human Rights Watch he rejected Mr Bitar’s appeal.

July 14, 2021

President Michel Aoun says August 4 will be a national day of mourning.

July 15, 2021

Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri steps down, nine months after he was designated to form a government. Lebanon’s political crisis worsens.

July 19, 2021

At least 28 MPs from political parties Amal, Hezbollah and the Future Movement sign a petition that would allow Parliament to take over the investigation by referring suspects to a special court for the trial of presidents and ministers. Families of victims shame them online.

July 26, 2021

Billionaire and former prime minister Najib Mikati is designated as Lebanon’s new prime minister.

July 27, 2021

Former prime minister Saad Hariri says immunity from prosecution should be lifted from the country’s president, prime minister, ministers and judges. This would require an amendment of the Constitution. Mr Berri echoes his call two days later.

July 28, 2021

Following Mr Bitar’s request, the Beirut Bar Association lifts the immunities of Mr Zeaiter and Mr Khalil. The Tripoli Bar Association lifts the immunity of Mr Fenianos on July 29. This is not enough to allow their prosecution because they are sitting MPs and still protected by parliamentary immunity.

July 30, 2021

MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement say they will ask Mr Berri to lift parliamentary immunity.

An FBI report seen by Reuters estimates that the amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at the port was 552 tonnes, much less than the 2,754 that arrived in 2013.

President Michel Aoun tells public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidate he is ready to give a statement about the port blast and says “no-one is above the law no matter how high up”.

The EU adopts a framework for sanctions on Lebanese politicians for undermining democracy or the rule of law.

August 3, 2021

Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil, who is also the son-in-law of Mr Aoun, says MPs' parliamentary immunity should be lifted.

Updated: August 4th 2021, 8:25 AM
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