The FBI will join the investigation of the Beirut explosion

The new ministers who will form the Lebanese government will be known this Friday
In this archive photo from August 8, 2020, French criminal police officers work at the site of this week's massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon

AP/THIBAULT CAMUS  -   In this archive photo from August 8, 2020, French criminal police officers work at the site of this week's massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon

According to a senior US diplomat, the FBI will join the investigation to find out what caused the explosion in Beirut, and who is responsible for the deaths of at least 172 people, and has called for a change of course in the Lebanese government to "ensure that something like this never happens again".

The Lebanese authorities have invited the FBI to participate in the investigation. U.S. Under Secretary of Political Affairs David Hale, who is visiting the North African country, touring the places most affected by the August 4 explosion, such as the Gemmayzeh neighborhood, said that Lebanon "needs economic and fiscal reform, an end to dysfunctional governance and empty promises.

In response to the FBI's involvement in the blast investigations, Hume told reporters that it would be "soon" when the U.S. federal intelligence agency joins in "to help answer the questions that I know everyone has about the circumstances that led to this explosion.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has also called for cooperation from French and British intelligence, including the sending of satellite images and the arrival of the Royal Navy at the port of Beirut to inspect the area.

REUTERS/HUSSEIN MALLA - El Subsecretario de Estado para Asuntos Políticos de EE.UU., David Hale, escucha a un voluntario de una ONG durante su visita a un importante punto de reunión de ONG cerca de la escena de la explosión de la semana pasada que golpeó el puerto marítimo de Beirut, Líbano, el 13 de agosto de 2020
REUTERS/HUSSEIN MALLA - US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale listens to an NGO volunteer during his visit to a major NGO meeting point near the scene of last week's explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, on 13 August 2020
Ten days after the disaster

Ten days after the explosion that has caused 172 deaths, more than 6,000 injured and still between 30 and 40 missing, in addition to more than 300,000 people who have lost all their belongings, the lack of evidence about what happened is turning Beirut into a powder keg. There are continuous protests in the streets against an incapable ruling class that resigned en bloc this week. This Friday, the appointment of new ministers is expected, who will undoubtedly face one of the greatest challenges the country remembers.

The losses are estimated at 15 billion dollars. This has been a hard blow for an already impoverished country that was already over 85 billion dollars in debt, 150% of its gross domestic product; unemployment figures that reach 700,000 people, in a country with a little over 6.8 million people and, so far, with a rejection of international aid, especially from the International Monetary Fund, to boost the economy.

The international aid following the impressive images of the explosion in the port of the Lebanese capital was not long in coming, but the international community warns, that it will only provide this aid if there is a clear intention to reform the country and leave behind the years of systematic corruption in the government and in high places.

REUTERS/HUSSEIN MALLA - La investigación judicial del Líbano sobre la explosión del puerto de Beirut comenzó con disputas políticas sobre el nombre de un investigador principal, amenazas militares a los fugitivos de las cárceles y dudas sobre si un panel nombrado por líneas sectarias podría ser totalmente imparcial
REUTERS/HUSSEIN MALLA - Lebanon's judicial investigation into the explosion at the port of Beirut began with political disputes over the name of a lead investigator, military threats to prison escapees and doubts about whether a panel appointed along sectarian lines could be totally impartial

So far, Washington has offered $18 million in humanitarian assistance provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the departments of state and defense.

But what worries the United States most is the presence of Hezbollah, referred to by the White House as a "terrorist organization," in the government and the fact that funds intended to help rebuild the country are reaching the coffers of the Shiites.

Political chaos

On Thursday, the Lebanese parliament approved a state of emergency in Beirut, which has given the military broad powers, amid increased mobilizations and popular anger against the ruling class. This decision has been widely criticized by activists, who see it as an attempt to suppress dissent. 

AFP/AFP - Mapa que resume la extensión de los daños causados por la explosión del 4 de agosto en Beirut, basado en el análisis de imágenes de satélite
AFP/AFP - Map summarizing the extent of damage caused by the August 4 explosion in Beirut, based on satellite image analysis

Prior to the declaration of the state of emergency, the government had already decreed a curfew in the Lebanese capital, a ban on public meetings and censorship of the media such as the imprisonment of a journalist, as well as the referral of civilians to military courts for alleged security violations.  These measures have been criticized by human rights groups.

The Lebanese political landscape has been affected by the explosion. Prior to 4 August, the interim government, led by Hassan Diab, who took office in January with the support of several political parties, including the Shiite Muslim party in Hezbollah, had proposed early elections, but was not supported by the Speaker of Parliament or other political groups.