Caretaker Lebanon PM testifies in Beirut port blast

A picture taken on 9 August 2020, shows graffiti on the wall of a bridge overlooking the port of Beirut, the site of the explosion which killed at least 200 people , injured 6500 and left 300, 000 homeless after 2,750 Tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Exploded . They were stored there for nearly 7 years. The shelf life of the product is supposed to be 6 months according to experts . After 6 months it starts solidifying and becomes more explodable . President Michel Aoun and PM Diab knew about the Ammonium Nitrate 2 weeks before the explosion but did nothing about it . Judge Fadi Sawan who is in charge of the investigation charged Diab , former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and former public works ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Finianos with negligence over the explosion (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, Beirut, Lebanon(Photo by Anwar Amro/AFP)

The lead investigator of the catastrophic blast at the Lebanese capital’s port heard testimony from outgoing prime minister Hassan Diab on Thursday.

A picture taken on 9 August 2020, shows graffiti on the wall of a bridge overlooking the port of Beirut, the site of the explosion which killed at least 191 people and devastated swathes of the capital. (Photo by Anwar Amro/AFP)

Diab became the first senior politician to testify before judicial authorities, who are not entitled to question incumbents in government or parliament without recourse to a special body. 

The premier who resigned in the wake of the August 4 blast that left more than 190 dead had said it was caused by 2,750 tonnes of fertiliser ammonium nitrate stored in a portside warehouse for years.

Judge Fadi Sawan listened to Diab’s testimony in his “capacity as a witness,” a judicial source told AFP.

Sawan was seeking to determine “how long he knew as prime minister of the presence of ammonium nitrate in the port”, according to the source.

He also wanted to find out “why he did not instruct the government to take measures to remove the dangerous (substance) after receiving reports from security services”.

On July 20, Diab and President Michel Aoun both received a report from the State Security agency warning of the danger posed by the highly unstable material.

After the explosion, the agency confirmed it had alerted authorities in a detailed report quoting a chemical expert who had visited the warehouse.

If ignited, the ammonium nitrate would cause a huge explosion that would be especially destructive to the port, warned the report seen by AFP.

Lebanese authorities have launched their own investigation after rejecting calls for an international probe.

Twenty-five suspects have so far been arrested, including port director-general Hassan Koraytem and customs chief Badri Daher.

Also among those arrested are three Syrian workers who carried out welding work on the warehouse on the day of the blast.

Security sources have suggested the work could have started a fire that triggered the blast, but some observers have rejected the theory.

The Lebanese army said Thursday it has found another 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored inside containers at an entrance to the port.