Chaos in Beirut After Gunmen Open Fire at Protests Against Explosion Inquiry

A crowd headed to protest against the leading investigator into the Beirut port explosion came under fire by gunmen, with at least 6 deaths and 30 injuries reported.
October 14, 2021, 11:22am
Three Killed and More Injured After Gunmen Open Fire on Protesters in Beirut
Lebanese medics help evacuate civilians during clashes in the area of Tayouneh, in the southern suburb of the capital Beirut. Photo: JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images

At least 6 people are dead and 30 are injured after unidentified gunmen opened fire in Beirut on a protest against the judge investigating last year’s devastating explosion at the city’s port.

Hundreds of protesters from Hezbollah – the Shia Islamist political party and militant group – and supporters of the allied the Amal and Marada movements had been heading to the Palace of Justice when gunfire erupted. The latest casualty figures were provided by the Lebanese Red Cross.

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Harrowing footage from the scene showed scenes of pure chaos, as people ran for cover and tried to drag dead or wounded people from the streets, as gunfire rang out in the background. Armed men from different groups could later be seen returning fire, as the sounds of gunfire continued and fierce fighting developed.

A fighter returns fire after gunfire broke out at the protest. Photo: ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

A fighter returns fire after gunfire broke out at the protest. Photo: ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

Lebanon’s army said it would shoot any armed people on the streets, and called for all civilians to immediately leave the area.

Demonstrators were demanding the removal of judge Tariq al-Bitar as the head of the investigation into the Beirut port blast. Bitar has been pushing to question politicians who were ministers at the time of the explosion, including former prime minister Hasan Diab and leading officials from the Amal Movement, a Shia party that’s a close ally of Hezbollah.

However, Bitar has made little progress in summoning officials in charge at the time of the explosion since the government has refused to grant him permission to pursue individuals for questioning.

Lebanese security forces deployed following the shooting. Photo: Hussam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Lebanese security forces deployed following the shooting. Photo: Hussam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Today’s protests and deadly aftermath came a day after ministers affiliated with the Amal movement and Hezbollah refused to attend unless the government intervened to dismiss Bitar.

Today’s escalation could further deepen the political pressure on the investigation into one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more.

Judge Bitar’s predecessor Fadi Sawan faced legal challenges and eventually was taken off the case in February by the Court of Cessation after he accused the former prime minister and four of his cabinet members of negligence that led to the explosion.

In Lebanon, the power-sharing system gives the premiership to a Sunni Muslim, in a three-way division shared alongside the presidency for the Christians and a Shiite chairing the parliament. The mechanism, which secures representation based on religious and sectarian constraints, has led to corruption, nepotism and the gradual slide of the economy into ruins.