The FBI will join Lebanese and other international investigators in the probe of the enormous explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 170 people, injured thousands and caused widespread destruction, a US diplomat said on Thursday.
Lebanese authorities had invited the FBI to take part, and it is one way that Washington can help the country deal with the effects of the disaster, said US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale as he toured the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood, which was damaged by the August 4 blast.
“The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese in order to help answer questions that I know everyone has about the circumstances that led up to this explosion,” he told reporters.
Lebanese army soldiers carry aid boxes past a destroyed car near the scene of last week’s explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon [AP Photo/Hassan Ammar]
It is still not known what caused the fire responsible for igniting nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that were stored for years in Beirut’s port. But documents have emerged that show the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the stockpile. French investigators are also taking part in the probe.
Lebanese officials agreed on Thursday on naming a judicial investigator to lead the probe under the auspices of the Supreme Judicial Council, which handles crimes that infringe on the country’s national security, as well as political and state security crimes.
The US Embassy said Hale is expected to “reiterate the American government’s commitment to assist the Lebanese people in recovering from the tragedy and rebuilding their lives”. He will also stress the “urgent need” for embracing fundamental reforms by Lebanon’s leaders.
So far, Washington has offered $18m in humanitarian assistance provided by the US Agency for International Development and the state and defence departments.
The United States is one of the largest donors to the Lebanese armed forces. But Washington views Hezbollah, a powerful political player in the government and parliament, as a terrorist group. US officials have expressed concerns about aid not going to the Hezbollah-backed government.
The government resigned on Monday but remains in a caretaker capacity. The resignation came nearly a week after the deadly blast that wrecked the capital’s port and damaged neighbourhoods across the capital.
The World Bank, in a preliminary assessment, said about 50,000 residential units were damaged and 80 percent of residential buildings and infrastructure were affected, aside from the destruction to the port. Wastewater systems in central Beirut and an electrical substation in one neighbourhood also were severely damaged, it said.
“Beyond the human tragedy, the economic impact of the explosion could be large,” the report said, including a decline in trade, economic activities and government revenues.
An earlier estimate from Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said the blast caused $10bn to $15bn in damage, with nearly 300,000 people left homeless.
On Thursday, Lebanon’s Parliament approved a state of emergency in Beirut in its first session since the explosion, granting the military sweeping powers amid rising popular anger over official corruption and mismanagement and political uncertainty.