Lebanon’s executive cabinet agreed to place under house arrest every Beirut port official responsible for storing confiscated items Wednesday in response to a massive blast in the port that has killed at least 100 and left thousands homeless.
A stockpile of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly flammable substance, caused the explosion, according to Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Diab said authorities confiscated the material in 2013 and left it unsecured in the port, a highly trafficked area, for six years.
Lebanese authorities have vowed to bring those responsible for the explosion and the thousands of injured to justice. They have not indicated that the explosion was a deliberate act of terrorism or that anything intentional triggered it. Some reports have suggested that construction work near the site may have detonated the nitrate.
The officials affected by the house arrest order, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, are all those “who oversaw storage and guarding since 2014.” Multiple international media outlets corroborated the move but cited anonymous sources, in addition to Daily Star.
The official Twitter account of the president of Lebanon, Michel Aoun, confirmed the arrests Wednesday.
“In light of the declared state of emergency, the National Defense Law, and other laws, the Supreme Military Authority is required to impose house arrest on anyone who manages the affairs of storing ammonium nitrate … from June 2014 until the date of the explosion,” Aoun wrote.
قرارات جلسة مجلس الوزراء: في ضوء حالة الطوارئ المعلنة وقانون الدفاع الوطني وغيرها من القوانين، يطلب من السلطة العسكرية العليا فرض الاقامة الجبرية على كل من أدار شؤون تخزين نيترات الأمونيوم (2750 طن) وحراستها و محّص ملفها أياً كان منذ حزيران 2014 حتى تاريخ الانفجار في 4/8/2020
— Lebanese Presidency (@LBpresidency) August 5, 2020
Aoun also announced efforts to offer “immediate compensation” to the affected, which include hundreds of thousands of people. The explosion devastated multiple neighborhoods of the national capital.
“What happened today will not fly by without accountability. All those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price,” Diab said in a national address on Tuesday. “This is a promise I make to martyrs and injured. This is a national commitment.”
“Facts about this dangerous warehouse that has been there since 2014, i.e. for 6 years now, will be announced. I will not preempt the investigations. At the moment, we are focusing on handling the disaster, pulling the martyrs out, and treating the wounded,” he said, offering the most detailed information on the explosion since it occurred.”
“The blast blew me off metres away. I was in a daze and was all covered in blood. It brought back the vision of another explosion I witnessed against the U.S. embassy in 1983,” Huda Baroudi, a Beirut designer and witness to the blast, told Reuters.