For Lebanese desperate to hold those responsible for the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut to account, Judge Tariq al-Bitar is a ray of hope that justice will one day be served in a country where impunity has long been the norm. .
As for some of Lebanon’s top officials, al-Bitar represents an embarrassment to a side that is trying to indict them for the blast, threatening a system designed to shield the ruling elite from prosecution.
Al-Bitar, 49, surprised the Lebanese on Monday when he reopened the investigation, accusing current and former senior officials of apparent opposition from the country’s elite, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
That gave new hope to those still mourning the 220 people killed in the blast, even as the prosecutor, one of the officers charged by al-Bittari, said the investigation was not yet complete, signaling new momentum from resistance commanders. .
“This is really a bold and courageous (decision). He (Al-Bitar) looked for this before and failed. There is no support from political figures. You feel like he’s on a solo mission,” said Tania Do Alam. who lost her husband in the blast, she told Reuters. He added that Al-Bitar’s decision made him a “hero of the modern era”.
The explosion took place on August 4, 2020 at a port warehouse, where hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate were stored after being unloaded in 2013, and is one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.
For many Lebanese, the disaster epitomizes the rampant corruption and mismanagement of the ruling elite that drove Lebanon into a devastating financial meltdown.
After the explosion, leaders promised to reveal the truth within days, but more than two years later no one has claimed responsibility in a country where the judiciary is affected by political pressure, with many judges appointed by politicians.
Al-Bitari was appointed to lead the investigation into the 2021 bombing after his predecessor, judge Fadi Sawani, was ousted amid complaints from senior officials who blamed him for the blast.
Al-Bitar went on to accuse several high-ranking politicians, including former Hezbollah-allied ministers. However, they refused to be questioned and denied any wrongdoing, saying they had exceeded their authority.
The investigation had been paralyzed for almost a year due to the resignation of judges from the court, which had to resolve several complaints against Bitari. Lebanese authorities have not appointed judges to replace them, raising fears that the investigation will be forgotten indefinitely.
Al-Bitar is not authorized to make public statements, but in a rare 2021 interview, he described the matter as “sacred”. “I will go where the law and the truth take me”, said Al-Bitar in an interview with the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour. “Nothing will stop me. I don’t know where the investigation will take me, but I won’t let it go off the rails.”
The armed group Hezbollah, which is Lebanon’s most powerful faction, accused al-Bitar of bias and accused Washington of interfering in the investigation, which the US ambassador to Lebanon has denied.
A Hezbollah official sent al-Bitar a letter in 2021 promising to “remove” him from the case, after which the group’s supporters and allies staged marches against him, sparking bloody violence in Beirut.
The pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said that Al-Bitari had “gone mad”. William Wahab, a Hezbollah-allied politician, called for al-Bitar to be removed from the judiciary, calling him a liar.
Al-Bitar, a devout Catholic from the northern Akari region, blamed officials across the religious spectrum, including Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. Both Al-Bitar and Sawan have denied wrongdoing.
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