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Beirut blast judge subpoenas caretaker PM Diab for interrogation after no-show

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab

The lead investigator into Beirut’s huge port blast has issued a subpoena for caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab after he failed to show up for questioning.

Lebanon’s news agencies said on Thursday that Judge Tareq Bitar had issued requests in July to question Diab but after the caretaker premier failed to attend the main courthouse, Bitar chose to subpoena him for interrogation on September 20.

A judicial source told Reuters that should Diab fail to attend the session next month, the judge would have the right to issue an arrest warrant.

Bitar has previously summoned four former ministers — three of whom are lawmakers — but parliament has refused to lift their immunity so they can appear before him.

The August 2020 explosion killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and flattened several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital. 

The massive blast was caused by the ignition of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, stored in a port warehouse filled with other hazardous material since 2014.

Following the explosion on August 4, it emerged that Lebanon's top security officials and politicians had known for years about hundreds of tons of the ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored haphazardly at the Beirut port, but had failed to take precautionary measures. 

Rights groups and families of victims accuse Lebanese officials of obstructing the probe into the explosion, which has so far failed to hold high-level officials to account or reveal the exact causes of the disaster.

The officials have so far rejected Bitar’s requests to lift the immunity of several high-ranking lawmakers and security chiefs so they can be questioned on the suspicion of criminal negligence, as well as homicide with probable intent.

The officials include Diab, ex-Public Works and Transport Ministers Yousef Finianos and Ghazi Zeiter, ex-Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, as well as General Security chief Major-General Abbas Ibrahim.

Beirut explosion has left Lebanon’s economy, which is already reeling from multiple crises, including the breakdown of its banking system, spiraling inflation and the coronavirus pandemic, in tatters. 

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