Freed port blast detainee arrives in US shortly after release

The director of the Security and Safety Dept. at Beirut’s port, who was released from detention Wednesday at State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat’s order, has arrived in the United States.

A dual American-Lebanese citizen, the director, Mohammed Ziad al-Ouf, was among 17 port case detainees freed on Wednesday in a move disputed by the lead investigative judge in the case Judge Tarek Bitar.

Al-Ouf’s lawyer Sakher al-Hashem said the suspended director has "arrived in the United States, and will not return to Lebanon."

A judicial official said that the United States had lobbied for his release.

Al-Ouf traveled despite the fact that Oueidat had slapped travel bans on all the released detainees. Some media reports meanwhile said that al-Ouf left the country before the issuance of the travel bans.

Nizar Zakka, President of the U.S.-based Hostage Aid Worldwide, tweeted that al-Ouf has been “freed from unlawful detention in Lebanon for more than 2 years.”

He “will finally be reunited with his family!”, Zakka added, thanking U.S. Special Presidential Envoy Roger Carstens, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Hostage Aid Worldwide and “everyone who helped” secure al-Ouf’s release.

Speaking to al-Jadeed TV, Zakka said al-Ouf traveled to carry out medical checkups in the United States and will return to Lebanon.

“He didn’t want to travel. He wanted to stay (in Lebanon) but he was pressured to go do his medical checkups,” Zakka added, clarifying that the checkups were requested by the U.S. government seeing as this is the routine procedure for those freed from “arbitrary detention.”

Asked about the travel ban issued by Oueidat, Zakka said he did not know about such an order and that al-Ouf “traveled normally” through Beirut’s airport.

"We have been waiting for this for so long because he's been unlawfully detained for two and a half years," al-Ouf's daughter Dalia told The Associated Press. "What happened today is very thrilling and we're very happy."

"We thought he will never come out because you never know here with the Lebanese laws and all the political situation so we were never sure when this will happen," she said.

One of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions, the August 4, 2020 blast destroyed much of Beirut's port and surrounding areas, killing more than 215 people and injuring over 6,500.

Authorities said hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer haphazardly stocked in a port warehouse since 2014 had caught fire, causing the explosion.

No official has been held accountable, and relatives of the victims and rights groups have blamed the disaster on a political class widely seen as inept.

Source: Naharnet, Agence France Presse, Associated Press

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