US pressure compromises Beirut port blast investigation
After over a year of suspension, a sudden resumption of the investigation resulted in an unprecedented decision to release all suspects involved in the explosion
By News Desk - January 25 2023

(Photo credit: Social Media)

Lebanese official sources revealed to The Cradle on 25 January that the US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea recently visited the President of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, and asked him to quickly proceed with the investigation into the port blast in order to facilitate the release of a dual citizen – US-Lebanese detainee, Muhammad Ziyad al-Awf.

The sources added that Shea informed Abboud that she had sent a report to the US State Department about the “arbitrary arrest” of Awf considering his status to be that of a “hostage,” and hinting at the possibility of transferring the matter from the State Department to the administration in charge of freeing hostages in the White House.

This prompted Abboud to urge Judge Tarek Bitar to suddenly resume the investigation, which he did on 24 January. Bitar decided to release five of the detained suspects, and issued arrest warrants against eight people, including former prime minister Hassan Diab, Major General Abbas Ibrahim and Director General of State Security, Antoine Saliba.

In his letter to Judge Abboud, he requested to charge Prosecutor General Judge Ghassan Oweidat in connection with the blast. Oweidat, who considered Bitar’s recent actions useless, announced on 25 January his decision to release all those arrested in the case based on the principle of “reciprocity.”

This came as a response to Bitar’s actions. According to the sources, after he met with the US ambassador, Bitar decided to release the five detainees so that he could later release Awf (as per Dorothy Shea’s request) without arousing suspicion.

This caused Judge Oweidat to release all the detained suspects in a retaliatory move, as he considered Bitar’s decisions “illegal.”

Oweidat’s decision to release all involved suspects from custody is a move that undermines Bitar’s decisions – which have targeted him personally – and prevents further US pressure.

Last week, a European judicial delegation, among them French judges, visited Lebanon intending to investigate the case. Some considered this to be a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

The Lebanese people are divided over Bitar’s decisions, as the parties whose members have made the allegations – such as the Amal Movement and the Marada Movement belonging to the March 8 coalition led by Hezbollah – consider the investigation politicized, and describe it as discretionary and populist. This belief is supported by some of the victims’ families, while many others, along with the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb parties, stand by Bitar.

Bitar was discontinued from investigating the explosion in December 2021 due to lawsuits successively filed by defendants against him. In a letter addressed to Bitar, Oweidat wrote: “We confirm that your hand is bound.”

It is worth noting that Judge Tarek Bitar is the second judicial investigator appointed after Judge Fadi Sawan, who stepped down from the file after an accumulation of lawsuits against him.

Judge Bitar has confirmed that he will not step down from the investigation and see it through to the end.

Most Popular