Lebanese ex-army chief testifies in Beirut port blast probe

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s former military chief informed the lead investigator of final 12 months’s large Beirut port blast on Thursday that he had advisable, years earlier than the explosion, that tons of seized ammonium nitrate saved there be offered privately or despatched again to importers.

The navy had no use for the risky chemical, testified Jean Kahwaji, who was military chief till 2017.

Kahwaji was summoned for questioning as a witness six months after the probe started, the primary military official and essentially the most senior safety official to testify within the probe.

He informed the lead investigator that the customs division had requested the military in late 2015 if it was within the saved fertilizer, which is also used as an explosive. The military, after finishing up checks, stated it had no use for the ammonium nitrate as a result of it was a big quantity and “has restricted use and since it dissolves with time, it constitutes a hazard if saved for a very long time,” Kahwaji stated.

Kahwaji stated the military had no room to retailer it and no skill to eliminate it. He added the military then requested the customs authority to promote it to a non-public explosive firm in Lebanon or to re-export to the nation of origin on the expense of the importers.

In line with a neighborhood media investigation, the importers had carried out their very own checks of the almost 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, months after it was saved on the port, after which dropped any claims to the cargo. The chemical compounds ended up staying within the warehouse for six years earlier than detonating. What sparked the explosion stays unknown.

The risky fertilizer ignited final Aug. 4, inflicting one of many largest non-nuclear explosion in historical past, disfiguring Beirut and killing 211 individuals. Greater than 6,000 had been injured within the explosion.

The cargo entered the port of Beirut in 2013 due to technical issues with the ship. It was then confiscated and saved in a warehouse within the port since 2014.

After the explosion, it was revealed that lots of Lebanon’s political and safety officers knew of the saved ammonium nitrate, and lots of of them had warned in inner communication of the risks of holding it within the port in hazardous situations.

The military command, when Kahwaji was in cost, was one of many entities that exchanged letters with the customs division on what to do with the ammonium nitrate.

In April 2016, the military despatched a letter to the Customs Authority with its suggestion.

On Thursday, Kahwaji informed lead investigator Choose Fadi Sawwan the “military had carried out and continues to hold duties in line with the regulation.” His assertion as reported by his lawyer was carried by the Nationwide Information Company.

In December, Sawwan filed costs in opposition to caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence resulting in the deaths of a whole bunch of individuals.

The fees sparked a backlash and the previous ministers challenged the decide’s authority in courtroom, bringing the probe to a halt. However the nation’s highest courtroom requested Sawwan to renew his work.

The questioning of Kahwaji signaled the resumption of the probe, and is more likely to ease public considerations that the investigation was derailed, given Lebanon’s decades-long tradition of impunity and political interference in judicial issues.

Almost 30 individuals, most of them port and customs officers, have been arrested for the reason that blast.

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