Aftermath of Beirut explosion
Aftermath of Beirut explosion AZIZ TAHER/ REUTERS

The judge leading Lebanon’s probe into last year’s massive Beirut port explosion on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for a former Cabinet minister, The Associated Press reported.

The judge, Tarek Bitar, charged Ali Hassan Khalil, Lebanon’s former finance minister and current member of parliament, and three other former senior government officials with intentional killing and negligence that led to the deaths of scores of people in the explosion. It wasn’t immediately clear if Khalil would be arrested after the warrant.

Shortly after he issued the warrant, Bitar was notified of a lawsuit filed by two defendants seeking to remove him from his post. The lawsuit automatically suspended the investigation, the second time in less than a month that defendants have managed to curtail it.

The lawsuit folloed harsh criticism against Bitar by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who called Bitar’s investigation a “big mistake” and said it was biased. He asked authorities to remove Bitar.

Bitar took over the job in February after judge Fadi Sawwan was removed from his post following similar legal challenges by senior officials.

In July, Bitar confirmed charges filed by his predecessor against former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers. Diab was summoned for questioning on accusations of intentional killings and negligence.

Bitar later issued a subpoena for Diab, after he failed show up for questioning.

Diab and his entire cabinet resigned soon after the August explosion. Following the resignation of Diab’s cabinet, Mustapha Adib was designated as Prime Minister, but he himself bowed out just weeks after being nominated. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was then tasked with forming a new government, his fourth in the past decade, before he too bowed out.

A report published following the incident linked Hezbollah to the explosion at the port, saying the group received from Iran many supplies of ammonium nitrate.

The report cast doubt over the denial by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that his group had any connection to the blast in Beirut.