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Two Years Following Devastating Explosion in Beirut, Lawsuits Arise Against Lebanon’s Political Elite

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Published: August 8, 2022
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On August 4, Lebanon will mark two years since the port's massive explosion that killed more than 200 people. It was caused by a stockpile of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate fertilizer catching fire. The silos had shielded the western part of the Lebanese capital when the catastrophic blast took place. (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

On Aug. 6, 2020, the crisis-stricken country of Lebanon was rocked by a massive explosion that devastated the capital city of Beirut, resulting in the deaths of more than 200 people. Two years following the explosion, the people of Beirut are up in arms, protesting in the streets over the stalling of investigations into the explosion and to demand the truth surrounding the disaster.

Ground zero in Beirut

On the evening of Aug. 6, 2020, the explosion erupted at a port warehouse, where 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate ignited, sending out one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions ever known.

The explosion ripped right through the city, overturning vehicles, shattering glass and even toppling houses. Among the buildings damaged in the blast were the headquarters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a bureau belonging to CNN in the city’s downtown. 

The explosion was so powerful that houses as far away as 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the epicenter suffered damage.

According to CNN, the crater left behind by the explosion was estimated to be around 124 meters (405 feet) in diameter.

Even the island of Cyprus — more than 200 kilometers away from Beirut — felt the power of the blast.

The explosion killed more than 200 people and injured 7,000 others. Beirut’s governor, Marwan Aboud, told Al Mamlaka — a news channel based in Jordan — that around 300,000 people were displaced, with half of Beirut’s homes rendered “unliveable.”

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Anger for the fallen

For the families of the people killed in the explosion, the call for justice and the truth was mired by political and legal woes.

Resident Tania Dou-Alam lost her husband — nicknamed Freddie — when the force of the blast ripped through St. George hospital, shattering glass and throwing the couple across the room.

“When you lose your husband, your soulmate, it feels like you lose your whole life,” Dou-Alam told al-Jazeera.

Dou-Alam joined countless others who lost their loved ones in the explosion, demanding justice for the fallen. 

“It makes me feel like I’m doing something for Freddie, because we owe him, we owe them all the truth and justice,” Dou-Alam told the news outlet.

In the years since the explosion, the Lebanese political elite, known loosely as al-sulta (the power), has avoided justice and allegedly have attempted to censor the disaster, earning the suspicions of activists vying for answers. 

It’s believed that political interference has hindered investigations into the explosion, including by politicians requesting to dismiss the judges heading the investigations. Judge Fadi Sawan was dismissed in February 2021, while his successor, Judge Tarek Bitar, was unable to proceed with the investigations.

The government also planned to demolish the port’s grain silos that were damaged in the blast, earning more ire from the people. The silos were said to have shielded survivors from the explosion, so the plans to demolish them were considered an “injustice.” Due to the pressure from the people, the demolition plans were suspended.

However, a large chunk of the silos collapsed on Sunday, July 31, after burning for several weeks, raising more suspicions amongst the activists.

“Without the grain silos, I would not be speaking to you, neither would my wife,” Paul Naggear — who lost his three-year-old daughter in the explosion, told al-Jazeera.

As justice is being disrupted, a civil case was filed in the U.S. in July by Swiss-based organization Accountability Now, which hopes to get $250 million in damages for the survivors, as well as evidence for the Lebanese investigation.

Sarah Copland — who lost her two-year-old son Isaac Oehlers in the blast — joined in the lawsuit, since her son was born in the United States. 

“At best it’s negligent, at worst [there is a] nefarious dealing going on,” Copland said.

The United Nations (UN) expressed its support for “a prompt, impartial, credible and independent investigation based on human rights principles, to examine all claims, concerns and needs in relation to the explosion as well as the underlying human rights failures.”