FBI joining deadly Beirut blast investigation, State Dept. official says

FBI joining deadly Beirut blast investigation, State Dept. official says
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The FBI is assisting Lebanese authorities in investigating the Beirut explosion that killed more than 170 people last week, a U.S. State Department official said Thursday.

“The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese in order to help answer questions that I know everyone has about the circumstances that led up to this explosion,” State Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale said while touring the Gemayezeh neighborhood, The Associated Press reported.

The Aug. 4 explosion occurred after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate ignited in the city’s port. The stockpile had been stored at the port for years, with officials reportedly failing to respond to warnings about the risks it posed.

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Lebanese officials said Thursday they will name a judicial investigator to head up the probe. The Lebanese Supreme Judicial Council, which investigates crimes relating to national security, will take the lead.

Hale, on his trip to Lebanon, is expected to “reiterate the American government’s commitment to assist the Lebanese people in recovering from the tragedy and rebuilding their lives,” according to the U.S. Embassy.

An early World Bank assessment estimates the blast damaged some 50,000 residential units and affected 80 percent of Beirut's infrastructure and residential buildings, the AP reported. Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud projected an overall cost of at least $10 billion in damages.

The country has seen days of heated demonstrations by protesters who blame government negligence and malfeasance for the blast. The entire government resigned earlier this week, remaining only in a caretaker capacity.

The nation's Parliament approved a state of emergency on Thursday, giving the military curfew power and authorizing it to ban public gatherings.

“There is incredible chaos,” human rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh said.