Lebanese authorities had announced an investigation into the cause of Tuesday’s explosion and the possible people responsible for the disaster. Initial findings indicate that the explosion was caused by a fire detonating 2,750 tons of stored ammonium nitrate in a shed in the port of Beirut.
Lebanon’s foreign minister said on French radio on Thursday that a commission of inquiry had been given four days to determine responsibility for the blast. At least 149 people were killed and at least 5,000 people were injured.
The military prosecutor, Fadi Akiki, said in a statement that 18 staff from the port of Beirut had been called for questioning, 16 of whom remain in custody pending further investigation. These are port and customs officers, as well as maintenance workers and their managers, Akiki said. The site of the disaster will remain closed until the investigation is completed, he said.
Lebanon’s government on Wednesday already had all Beirut port officials who have overseen storage and security since 2014 placed under house arrest.
Cyprus police also reported Thursday that they interrogated a Russian who is believed to be linked to the boat that brought ammonium nitrate to Beirut in 2013. The ship was supposed to sail to Mozambique, but never left due to technical problems and non-compliance with maritime rules. The cargo was placed in a hangar and the ship eventually sank. According to lawyers for the ship’s crew, the owner and crew had warned the Lebanese authorities about the risk of the cargo exploding.