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Lebanon judge issues arrest warrant for MP over port blast

In this August 5, 2020 file photo, a drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)
In this August 5, 2020 file photo, a drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The Lebanese judge leading the investigation into last year’s massive explosion at Beirut’s port issues an arrest warrant for a former Cabinet minister after he did not show up for questioning, the state-run National News Agency says.

Shortly afterward, the judge is notified that the former minister and another former government member had formally asked a court to replace the judge, who now has to suspend the investigation until a ruling on him comes out.

The developments are the latest twists in the saga of the troubled probe into the massive August 2020 blast at Beirut’s port that killed 215 people, injured thousands and devastated entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation, issues an arrest warrant for Ali Hassan Khalil, Lebanon’s former finance minister and current member of parliament. It isn’t immediately clear if Khalil would be arrested.

The decision comes hours after the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group escalated his attack on the judge, calling on authorities on Monday to replace Bitar with a “truthful and transparent” investigator.

Khalil, a close Hezbollah ally, was among officials who challenged Bitar in the courts, saying the judge was biased and calling for him to be replaced. He had previously declined to appear for questioning.

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