BEIRUT — A team of FBI investigators was due to arrive in Lebanon this weekend to take part in the probe of Beirut’s massive explosion, a senior US official said Saturday after visiting the location of the blast.
David Hale, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, called for a thorough and transparent investigation. He said the FBI team is taking part at the invitation of Lebanese authorities to find answers about what caused the Aug. 4 explosion that killed nearly 180 people and wounded thousands.
The cause of the fire that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port remains unclear. Documents have emerged showing the country’s top leadership and security officials were aware of the chemicals stored at the port. French investigators are also taking part in the Lebanese-led probe.
“We really need to make sure that there is a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation. I know that is what everyone is demanding,” Hale said.
Search and rescue crews flew in from around the world in the immediate aftermath. Hale toured the site of the blast with Lebanese Army officers.
Many Lebanese want the probe taken out of the hands of their government, fearing that bickering among the long-entrenched factions, notorious for corruption, won’t allow any results to come to light that are damaging to their leadership.
Top Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, have rejected calls for an independent probe.
Late on Friday, the leader of the powerful Hezbollah group said he did not trust any international investigation, a clear reference to the FBI assistance. Hassan Nasrallah said the cause of the explosion is still unclear, adding that any international probe would likely seek to clear Israel of any responsibility in the port explosion, if it had any. Nasrallah added that Israel will be met “with an equally devastating response” if the investigation points to its involvement.
Israel has denied involvement and no evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise. However, Aoun, who is supported by Hezbollah, has said it’s a theory being investigated.
On Saturday, French investigators were seen in boats and on the ground near the scene of the blast. A French helicopter carrier was docked at the port as troops unloaded equipment.
French troops on foot and in vehicles were moving around the port. The United Nations says 30 percent of the port remains operational.
Hale stressed the need for full state control over ports and borders in an apparent reference to claims that Hezbollah holds influence over both in Lebanon.