As It Happens

2 years after the Beirut blast, the youngest victim's parents are still fighting for justice

Two years have passed since Paul and Tracy Naggear lost their three-year-old daughter in the Beirut explosion, and it hasn’t gotten any easier.

Paul and Tracy Naggear’s 3-year-old daughter Alexandra was among the hundreds killed

A man and a woman standing in a crowd, both wearing masks and holding their fists in the air. The man has his arm around the woman's waist.
Tracy and Paul Naggear, the parents of three-year-old Alexandra, who was killed in the 2020 Beirut explosion, chant slogans as they raise their fists during a protest outside the home of then-interior minister Mohamed Fehmi on July 13, 2021. (Bilal Hussein/The Associated Press)

Story Transcript

Two years have passed since Paul and Tracy Naggear lost their three-year-old daughter in the Beirut explosion, and it hasn't gotten any easier.

Alexandra was the youngest known victim of the port explosion that killed at least 215 people and laid waste to huge swathes of Lebanon's capital in 2020. Her smiling face, often pictured on signs at anti-government protests, has become a symbol of the ongoing fight for justice. 

Since her death, her parents have found solidarity — and even hope — in that fight. But it hasn't alleviated the pain of their loss.

"She's a fantastic child that, you know, filled our lives with joy, playfulness [and] love," Paul Naggear told As It Happens guest host Paul Hunter. "We miss her every day, and there is no day that is any different than the other. And, actually, it doesn't really get better."

Thursday marks the two-year anniversary of the deadly blast, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. Last week, some of the remnants of the port grain silos collapsed after a fire triggered by grains that had fermented and ignited in the summer heat.

Since the explosion, multiple attempts to hold political leaders to account for their alleged negligence have either failed, or stalled.

"After two years, we still have nothing. I am very, very angry and very frustrated. We have to continue our lives. But frankly speaking, it's extremely hard," Naggear said.

"You feel like you're dying every day because you're not progressing and there's no accountability. Can you imagine?"

The day it happened

The explosion just after 6 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2020, resulted from the detonation of hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse on the city's port.

The blast was so powerful it was felt 250 kilometres away in Cyprus, and sent a mushroom cloud over Beirut. A large portion of the city was reduced to rubble. Hundreds of people were killed, though the exact tally is unclear. More than 6,000 were injured.

Naggear remembers that day all too vividly.

"It was complete chaos, as you can imagine in a sci-fi movie," he said. "It was total destruction."

In the background looms a tall building by the water, shredded and covered in debris, surrounded by sand, rubble and large chunks of concrete. In front of it are the charred remnants of destroyed smaller buildings, with nothing left but beams. Dozens of people are milling about near the rubble and on the street in front of it.
Destroyed buildings are visible a day after the Aug. 4, 2020, explosion. (Daniel Carde/Getty Images)

He, his wife Tracy and their daughter Alexandra were on the street where they lived at the time, less than a kilometre from the explosion's epicentre, trying to make their way to safety.

Alexandra and Tracy were both badly injured in the blast. After a while, Tracy was no longer able to keep going. So the couple made the difficult choice to separate so that Naggear could try to get the child to a hospital. 

He made the journey first by scooter, and eventually, by ambulance. But by then, Alexandra's condition was already deteriorating. 

"This is something that no one wants to see a child go through, Naggear said. "When you feel that your child is in pain, I think it is probably the worst thing."

She died four days later in hospital.

How it happened

The ammonium nitrate that exploded was originally bound for Mozambique aboard a Russian-leased ship. The chemicals had been at the port since 2013, when they were unloaded during an unscheduled stop to take on extra cargo.

The ship never left the port, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.

Senior Lebanese officials — including President Michel Aoun and then-prime minister Hassan Diab — were aware of the cargo. Aoun said shortly after the blast he had told security chiefs to "do what is necessary" after learning of the chemicals. He has since maintained that his conscience is clear.

The justice minister appointed Judge Fadi Sawan to investigate the explosion. Sawan charged three ex-ministers and Diab with negligence in December 2020, but then hit strong political pushback. A court removed him from the case in February 2021 after two of the ex-ministers — Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeitar — complained he had overstepped his powers.

Two framed images stand side by side, with a white ceramic cross and a gold crucifix laid in front of them. On the left, a photo of a woman snuggling a toddler, inscribed with Arabic words. On the right, a colourful illustration of a little girl with angel wings holding a Lebanese flag. Tucked into the corner of the framed illustration is small photograph of a smiling baby.
Crosses lay in front of pictures of Alexandra Naggear with the words: 'Your blessings, Mom.' (Hassan Amnar/The Associated Press)

His replacement, Judge Tarek Bitar, has sought to interrogate various senior government figures, including allies of the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

They all denied wrongdoing and refused to answer Bitar's questions, arguing either that they have immunity or that the judge lacks authority to prosecute them.

The suspects swamped courts last year with more than two dozen legal cases seeking Bitar's removal over alleged bias and "grave mistakes."

That has left the investigation in limbo since early 2022 due to the retirement of judges from a court that must rule on several complaints against Bitar before he can continue.

A man in a mask stands with his arms folded next to a large black and white sketch of a little girl hanging on the wall.
Paul Naggear stands next a portrait of his daughter Alexandra. (Hassan Ammar/The Associated Press)

None of this came as a surprise to the Naggears.

"Since the very beginning, Tracy and I were convinced that there was going to be no justice whatsoever in Lebanon, because Lebanon is a role model in impunity and injustice," Naggear said.

"And I've seen it for the past decades from political assassinations in total impunity, to today, [with] people living in extremely miserable conditions and no one to be [held] accountable for it."

The fight continues

Instead, he says they have sought justice in whatever ways are available to them. Sometimes that means marching in anti-government protests.

They're also fighting in court outside of Lebanon, joining a U.K. lawsuit against Savaro Ltd, one of the chemical companies that allegedly failed to properly store the ammonium nitrate. A similar lawsuit has been filed in Texas against TGS, a U.S.-Norwegian accused of playing a role in bringing the chemicals to Beirut's port.

Both lawsuits are ongoing and the allegations have not been proven in court. TGS told CBC in an email: "We deny each and every allegation raised in the lawsuit, and intend to vigorously defend this matter in court."

A man and a woman sitting side by side. The woman is holding an infant.
Tracy Naggear holds her baby during an interview with Reuters in Beit Mery, Lebanon, on May 14, 2022. (Issam Abdallah/Reuters)

Naggear says any justice will undoubtedly come from outside Lebanon. To that end, he's also calling on the United Nations to launch a fact-finding mission in the blast.

On that front, he's not alone. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and several other human rights groups issued a joint call for the UN to intervene where the domestic investigation has stalled.

"As the Lebanese authorities continue to brazenly obstruct and delay the domestic investigation into the port explosion, an international investigation is the only way forward to ensure that justice is delivered," said Diana Semaan, acting deputy director at Amnesty International.

The Naggears, meanwhile, fight on. 

Tracy holds Canadian citizenship, and in the days following the explosion, her husband says they considered moving to Montreal. But ultimately, they decided to stay.

"In the months that followed the blast, we saw ... a very strong movement of solidarity, from the people. And that gave us a lot of hope," Naggear said.

But no matter what, they must still carry the weight of their immense loss.

"We lost our daughter. We lost our lives. We lost our home," Naggear said. "So it's a lot of anger. This is what injustice brings."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with Paul Naggear produced by Arman Aghbali.

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