The low-profile Bitar — there are only a few public pictures of him — has earned the trust of many Lebanese, including relatives of the victims.
For eight months, he has quietly investigated one of the world’s worst non-nuclear explosions with only four assistants — and a lot of powerful detractors trying to block him, as the Associated Press reports.
In that time, Judge Tarek Bitar has become a household name in Lebanon and a staple on every news bulletin.
For many Lebanese, Bitar’s investigation of last year’s massive Beirut port explosion is their only hope for truth and accountability in a country that craves both. Billboards in Beirut showing a fist holding a gavel read: “Only Tarek can take our revenge,” a play on Arabic words using the judge’s last name.
But to the country’s entrenched political class, the enigmatic 47-year-old has turned into a nightmare. Politicians have united as they rarely do to remove him from his post, apparently deeming him a threat much greater than the country’s collapsing economy, the state’s empty coffers and burgeoning unemployment, poverty and public anger.
Bitar has not shied away from summoning a dozen senior former and current government officials, some of them on charges of criminal negligence and homicide with probable intent. He issued arrest warrants for two former ministers when they refused to appear before him.
More than 215 people died in the Aug. 4, 2020 port explosion, caused by the detonation of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for years, apparently with the knowledge of senior politicians and security officials who did nothing about it. The explosion also injured 6,000 people and destroyed parts of the city.
More than a year after the government launched a judicial investigation, nearly everything else remains unknown – from who ordered the shipment to why officials ignored repeated warnings of the danger.
But the low-profile Bitar — there are only a few public pictures of him — has earned the trust of many Lebanese, including relatives of the victims.
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