Lebanon bomb investigation: A look at the latest suspects

The investigation itself is “downright terrifying”, reports Alex Crawford in the BBC’s Beirut office What was it? The bombing of Beirut’s port in December claimed by Hezbollah was undoubtedly one of the Lebanese capital’s…

Lebanon bomb investigation: A look at the latest suspects

The investigation itself is “downright terrifying”, reports Alex Crawford in the BBC’s Beirut office

What was it?

The bombing of Beirut’s port in December claimed by Hezbollah was undoubtedly one of the Lebanese capital’s worst attacks in decades.

The explosion, which took place in a crowded intersection and struck the industrial port, killed 46 people, left more than 240 injured and more than 50 vehicles destroyed.

Investigators initially concluded Hezbollah was responsible for the attack and killed the three alleged suicide bombers. But the suspects, all men, are all still alive.

The General Security Directorate, which is jointly controlled by the government and Hezbollah, has refused to name the attackers – despite the fact they were caught on security cameras and their car identification numbers were known – even though it had declared one of the suspects a suspect even before the blast.

But suspicions are shifting and within weeks of the bombing a court in Tripoli, north Lebanon, charged six senior Hezbollah officers with a series of crimes including murder, kidnapping and interference in internal affairs.

As a result, the attack has also reopened old wounds.

The chief government prosecutor, Nadim Hawaite, who was previously a senior officer in the Lebanese Army and a senior UN officer, now claims to have had information about the attack dating back to 2008.

A former intelligence chief in government, Wissam al-Hassan, claims Hezbollah set up a terrorist cell in Beirut for years before the attack and that the fact no one has been charged is a “deliberate cover-up”.

Who are the main suspects?

Some key suspects are known, and others remain mysterious.

The Beirut police station where Lebanese police and judicial officials are based was destroyed in the blast, which the head of investigation Najib Mikati later called a “terrorist attack”. But it remains unclear what the motives were.

Najib Mikati (left) was chief executive of Lebanon’s government when the bombing occurred in December

The organisation that made the public announcements when announcing the charges against Hezbollah was known as Nejm al-Muqata’in (Committee to unify Beirut), a private group that spoke for Lebanese victims of the civil war – which killed more than a million and created many of the circumstances behind the bomb.

But the committee was more than that.

It reportedly included commanders from some of the most powerful militias in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, and on its website its members openly encouraged attack on Israel and criticism of the Lebanese government.

It alleged Hezbollah and its allies were behind attacks on government ministers and others, but it made no case for Hezbollah’s involvement in the port bombing, which killed many civilians.

The committee’s main evidence apparently was the identification of the suspects on security cameras but it never disclosed names.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, information was leaked to members of the public, including Hezbollah sympathisers, and the name of one of the accused was given – Hizbullah’s own Fadi al-Shami.

Hezbollah has since denied he was involved.

But Mr Hassan, the former intelligence chief, continues to hold different views on the issue.

He says he was led to suspect Mr Shami in 2008, but security services were dragging their feet and he was “frustrated and anxious” and he leaked details to prove it.

The chief government prosecutor, Nadim Hawaite, who was previously a senior officer in the Lebanese Army and a senior UN officer, now claims to have had information about the attack dating back to 2008

What has happened since?

Within weeks of the bombing, the General Security Directorate had announced its suspicions of Hezbollah.

It subsequently named one of the suspects as Ali El-Hajj, a Syrian intelligence officer. Later that month, Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese Parliament voted to remove the director general and the head of the General Security Directorate – Hadi Haber – saying they were refusing to consider the terrorists accountable.

Hezbollah has also alleged that many of the other people named in the investigations so far were wrongfully arrested.

What are the rest of the suspects accused of?

There are at least eight suspects in connection with the attack, all of whom are in Lebanese jails.

Mohammed Kourfah, a 46-year-old Sunni engineer of Lebanese origin, was charged in January.

He is one of the last suspects still in custody, says the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which has jurisdiction over the suspects.

Ali El-Hajj is one of the last suspects still in custody

One of the other main suspects, Ammar al-Homsi, the father of the five suspects in the trial, was also accused in court of murder. However, he was acquitted because of the weakness of the investigation.

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