Hassan Diab, who, along with his cabinet, resigned after the port explosion.

There had been hope that Mr. Mikati would bring some stability as his new government took shape. But at the same time, tensions over the port investigation grew deeper.

The blast at the port was caused by the sudden combustion of some 2,750 tons of volatile chemicals that had been unloaded into the port years before, but more than a year later no one has been held accountable.

The judge investigating the explosion, Tarek Bitar, has moved to summon a range of powerful politicians and security officials for questioning, which could result in criminal charges against them.

Hezbollah has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of Judge Bitar, and his inquiry was suspended this week after two former ministers facing charges lodged a legal complaint against him.

Families of the victims condemned the move, with critics saying that the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from accountability for the largest explosion in the turbulent country’s history.

On Monday, the judge had issued an arrest warrant for Ali Hussein Khalil, a prominent Shiite member of Parliament and a close adviser to the leader of the Amal party. The warrant leveled serious accusations against Mr. Khalil.

“The nature of the offense,” the document read, is “killing, harming, arson and vandalism linked to probable intent.”

On Tuesday, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued some of his most scathing criticism of Judge Bitar, accusing him of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation and calling for a protest on Thursday.

When Hezbollah followers joined the protests to call for the judge’s removal, witnesses said, the sniper shots rang out.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Marc Santora from London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar from Beirut, and Vivian Yee and Mona el-Naggar from Cairo.

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U.S. Reaches Agreement to Release Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou

For its part, the Chinese government has underwritten the cost of installing Huawei gear, in an effort to dominate networks from Latin America to the Middle East.

Ms. Meng came to personify that effort. Her determination to wire up Tehran, at a time in which the West was seeking to contain Iran’s nuclear program, attracted protests among American officials. For that reason, some China hard-liners objected on Friday to news that the charges were being dropped.

“It sends the wrong message to Chinese business executives around the world that it’s permissible to engage in fraudulent transactions with Iran and North Korea,” said Michael Pillsbury, a scholar at the Hudson Institute who was a top China adviser to former President Donald J. Trump. “I fear that another part of the message has been that the Biden team approved selling Huawei some types of chips and technology, which will also undercut the message that Huawei should not be involved in 5G telecommunications systems of our friends and allies.”

Huawei mustered a furious effort in Washington and in Canada to get Ms. Meng released. But she refused to plead guilty to bank and wire fraud charges stemming from Huawei’s deal in Iran. Months later, she agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, which will ultimately lead to dropping all the charges against her.

The case began when Canadian authorities arrested Ms. Meng, 49, in December 2018, at the request of the United States. She owns two imposing homes in Vancouver, and was allowed to stay in them with an ankle bracelet to track her whereabouts. She eventually settled at her gated, seven-bedroom mansion in the city’s exclusive Shaughnessy neighborhood, where she received painting lessons and private massages.

She instantly became one of the world’s most famous detainees — especially because she is the daughter of Huawei’s famous founder and chief executive, Ren Zhengfei, a former People’s Liberation Army officer who turned his small telecommunications firm into a national champion.

In January 2019, the Justice Department indicted Huawei and Ms. Meng. While the charges focused on bank and wire fraud, in announcing the indictment, the Justice Department alleged that Huawei employees, including Ms. Meng, lied to bank officials when asked about whether Huawei was unlawfully engaged in business with Iran, knowing that U.S. sanctions on Tehran would prevent the banks from financing the sale.

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Afghan Uyghurs Fear Taliban Will Deport Them to China

Ibrahim’s parents fled political turmoil in China for Afghanistan more than 50 years ago. At that time, Mao Zedong had unleashed the Cultural Revolution, and life was upended for many Uyghurs, the mostly Muslim ethnic group in Xinjiang that included Ibrahim’s parents.

Ibrahim was born in Afghanistan. But now he, too, is trying to escape the clutches of Chinese authoritarianism.

He and his family have been afraid to leave their home in Afghanistan since the Taliban, the country’s new rulers, took control last month, venturing outside only to buy essentials. “We are extremely worried and nervous,” said Ibrahim, whose full name is being withheld for his safety. “Our children are worried for our safety, so they have asked us to stay home.”

For years, Chinese officials have issued calls for leaders in Afghanistan to crack down on and deport Uyghur militants they claimed were sheltering in Afghanistan. The officials said the fighters belonged to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist organization that Beijing has held responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in China since the late 1990s.

locked up close to a million Uyghurs in camps and subjected those outside to constant surveillance. China says the camps are necessary to weed out extremism and to “re-educate” the Uyghurs.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, standing side by side with leaders of the Taliban in July. Earlier this month, Mr. Wang pledged $30 million in food and other aid to the new government, as well as three million coronavirus vaccine doses; on Thursday, he said Afghanistan’s overseas assets “should not be unreasonably frozen or used as a bargaining chip to exert pressure,” obliquely referencing American control of billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank.

Since the late 1990s, Beijing has succeeded in pressuring several countries to deport Uyghurs. The Uyghur Human Rights Project, an advocacy group based in Washington, has counted 395 cases of Uyghurs being sent to China since 1997. The group said in an August report that journalists and human rights organizations have documented 40 cases of detentions or renditions from Afghanistan to China, though it has verified only one of them.

cash shortages. People have been unable to withdraw money from banks. Grocery prices have shot up. The Taliban have also looked to China for help avoiding a possible economic collapse.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“The lines are blurred on China’s part between who constitutes a terrorist and who constitutes someone who has simply been politically active,” Mr. Small said. “Individuals who are politically and economically connected with any activities they find problematic” are likely to be targeted, he said.

The uncertain future of Uyghurs in Afghanistan has caught the attention of Abdul Aziz Naseri, a Uyghur activist who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in Turkey. Mr. Abdul Aziz said he had compiled a list of roughly 500 Afghan Uyghurs who want to leave the country.

“They say to me: ‘Please save our future, please save our children,’” he said.

He shared the names and photographs of these people with The New York Times, but asked that their information be kept private. At least 73 people on the list appeared to be under the age of 5.

Shabnam, a 32-year-old Uyghur, her mother and two sisters managed to get out of Afghanistan last month. The women rushed to the airport in Kabul during the frenzied United States evacuation. Her sisters boarded one flight, her mother another. Shabnam said she was the last to leave.

In an interview, she described being separated from her husband while getting through the chaotic security lines at the airport. She was holding his passport and begged the security guards to deliver it to him. No one helped, she said.

Shabnam waited for her husband for four days, while the people around her at the airport encouraged her to leave.

She finally did — boarding a U.S. military plane with hundreds of other Afghans late last month. Her trip took her to Qatar, Germany and finally the United States, where she landed on Aug. 26. She is now in New Jersey and still trying to get her husband out of Afghanistan.

“I was happy that I got out of there, thank God,” Shabnam said. “I like it here. It’s safe and secure.”

Nilo Tabrizy contributed reporting.

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The Scientist and the A.I.-Assisted, Remote-Control Killing Machine

If Israel was going to kill a top Iranian official, an act that had the potential to start a war, it needed the assent and protection of the United States. That meant acting before Mr. Biden could take office. In Mr. Netanyahu’s best-case scenario, the assassination would derail any chance of resurrecting the nuclear agreement even if Mr. Biden won.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh grew up in a conservative family in the holy city of Qom, the theological heart of Shia Islam. He was 18 when the Islamic revolution toppled Iran’s monarchy, a historical reckoning that fired his imagination.

He set out to achieve two dreams: to become a nuclear scientist and to take part in the military wing of the new government. As a symbol of his devotion to the revolution, he wore a silver ring with a large, oval red agate, the same type worn by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and by General Suleimani.

He joined the Revolutionary Guards and climbed the ranks to general. He earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Isfahan University of Technology with a dissertation on “identifying neutrons,” according to Ali Akbar Salehi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency and a longtime friend and colleague.

He led the missile development program for the Guards and pioneered the country’s nuclear program. As research director for the Defense Ministry, he played a key role in developing homegrown drones and, according to two Iranian officials, traveled to North Korea to join forces on missile development. At the time of his death, he was deputy defense minister.

“In the field of nuclear and nanotechnology and biochemical war, Mr. Fakhrizadeh was a character on par with Qassim Suleimani but in a totally covert way,” Gheish Ghoreishi, who has advised Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Arab affairs, said in an interview.

When Iran needed sensitive equipment or technology that was prohibited under international sanctions, Mr. Fakhrizadeh found ways to obtain them.

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U.S. Launches Strike on ISIS-K as Bombing’s Death Toll Soars

The U.S. military said on Friday night that it had launched its first reprisal strike for the devastating suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport the day before, using a drone to target and apparently kill a planner for the group that claimed responsibility for the deaths of as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

“U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as Islamic State Khorasan.

“The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan,” Captain Urban said. “Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties.”

The attack at the airport on Thursday was one of the deadliest bombings in the nearly two decades since the U.S.-led invasion. American officials believe “another terror attack in Kabul is likely,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday afternoon. “The threat is ongoing and it is active. Our troops are still in danger.”

attack also killed 13 U.S. service members, and one of the first to be identified was Rylee McCollum, 20, a Marine who had been on his first overseas deployment, according to his father. He was one of 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic killed in the attack, according to defense officials.

ISIS-K, instead saying it was just one. The explosion hit right near the airport’s Abbey Gate, at a security chokepoint that squeezed together an enormous crowd that U.S. troops were checking for entry.

It was not only fear that trimmed the crowd at the airport Friday, what had been a constant mass since the Taliban assumed power nearly two weeks ago. Taliban fighters with Kalashnikov rifles kept people farther away from the airport’s entrance gates, guarding checkpoints with trucks and at least one Humvee.

Flights to evacuate people already within the airport resumed soon after the bombing. But the airport itself was largely locked down on Friday.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

Both exercises — the walk and the nudging — are proving to be challenges. In the normally bustling and noisy Shahr-e Naw neighborhood, once alive with street vendors and jostling pedestrians, there is now an unsettling silence. And so far his encounters with the Taliban have not yielded the results he had hoped for.

on pace to fall well short of providing an exit for everyone who wants to leave.

That left Afghans scrambling to find a way out of the country.

In the southwest, thousands of people have been trying to flee into Pakistan, gathering daily near the Spin Boldak-Chaman border crossing, the only one designated for refugees. In the west, several thousand people a day are also crossing into Iran, U.N. officials said.

Daniel Victor, Zia ur-Rehman, Jim Huylebroek, Megan Specia, Fahim Abed, Jack Healy and Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

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Afghanistan Collapse Accelerates as 2 Vital Cities Near Fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two more major cities in western and southern Afghanistan were on the verge of collapse to the Taliban on Thursday night, as the insurgency’s race to seize control of the country accelerated.

With the Taliban’s sudden gains in Kandahar, in the country’s southern Pashtun heartland, and Herat, a vital cultural and economic hub, the insurgents appear to be nearing a complete military takeover. Only four major cities — including the capital, Kabul — remain under government control, and two of them are under siege by the Taliban.

Over the past week, the Taliban have toppled city after city in a stunning advance that has well positioned the insurgents to attack Kabul. It has also laid bare the Afghan security forces’ near complete collapse less than three weeks before the United States is set to completely withdraw. Some American officials fear the Afghan government will implode within 30 days, and are preparing for an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents now control well over half of the country’s 400-odd districts. And with the fall of Kandahar and Herat, along with another provincial capital south of Kabul, Ghazni, and one in the northwest, Qala-e-Naw — all on Thursday — the insurgents will control 13 provincial capitals.

eeking assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the embassy if the insurgents overrun the capital, two American officials said.

Afghan security forces, exhausted and overstretched by the Taliban’s advance, are giving up across the country. On Wednesday, an entire Afghan army corps in the northern city Kunduz surrendered to Taliban fighters, who had seized control of the city a few days before. They handed over their weapons and vehicles to the insurgents and ceded control of the city’s airport, officials said.

As the Taliban have pressed on their brutal offensive, thousands of displaced people have flocked to Kabul, one of the last islands of government control not yet under siege. Hundreds of thousands of others have been trapped between fighting in city streets and airstrikes from the sky.

“Every second here I am concerned, I am crying,” said Humaira Jahion, 47, who fled to Kabul from the northern city Kunduz hours before it fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

For two nights she sheltered in her home with her seven children, afraid to leave after a mortar landed half a block from her house. Now, thinking about her family’s future as she crowded in with hundreds of others in a makeshift shelter, a look of anguish washed over her face.

“There is no future here,” she said. “There is no future for me and there is no future for my children.”

Asadullah Timory, Najim Rahim, Jim Huylebroek and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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Taliban Capture Zaranj, an Afghanistan Provincial Capital, in a Symbolic Victory

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban captured a regional hub city in western Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgency since the Biden administration announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The successful takeover marks a significant milestone in the insurgents’ relentless march to increase their stranglehold on the Afghan government and retake power in the country. The Taliban have besieged a host of such cities for weeks, and the fall of Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz Province on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is the Taliban’s first breakthrough. And it handed the insurgents another crucial international border crossing, the latest in its recent campaign to control road access in Afghanistan.

A regional administrative hub is now completely controlled by the Taliban, an attention-grabbing addition to their steady drumbeat of rural victories in recent months. It was a considerable setback for the government, which has had to contend with simultaneous attacks on capital cities that have stretched military resources desperately thin.

The collapse of Zaranj at the hands of the insurgents was confirmed Friday by Rohgul Khairzad, the deputy governor of Nimruz, and Hajji Baz Mohammad Naser, the head of the provincial council.

coordinated attack by the insurgent group on the residence of the acting defense minister that left eight people dead. That assault highlighted the Taliban’s ability to strike in the heart of the Afghan capital as they continue their sweeping military campaign.

In northern Afghanistan on Friday, the Taliban attacked another provincial capital, Sheberghan, from five directions, burning houses and wedding halls, and assaulting the police headquarters and the prison. There were numerous civilian casualties, said Halima Sadaf Karimi, a member of Parliament from Jowzjan Province, of which Sheberghan is the capital.

Fighting also continued around the major western city of Herat, in Kandahar city in the south and in other provincial capitals.

The government’s response to the insurgents’ recent victories has been piecemeal. Afghan forces have retaken some districts, but both the Afghan Air Force and its commando forces — which have been deployed to hold what territory remains as regular army and police units retreat, surrender or refuse to fight — are exhausted.

In the security forces’ stead, the government has once more looked to local militias to fill the gaps, a move reminiscent of the chaotic and ethnically divided civil war of the 1990s that many Afghans now fear will return.

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has increased airstrikes on Taliban positions around crucial cities in an effort to give Afghan forces on the ground time to regroup. The strikes alone do little to change the situation on the ground, but have slowed Taliban advances.

The United States is supposed to complete its withdrawal by Aug. 31, at which point the Biden administration has said its military operations will end. That would give the Afghan government mere weeks to reconstitute its security forces to defend the cities and territory still under its control.

At a special session of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, Deborah Lyons, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, warned that without action, the country could descend “into a situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels in this century.”

Afghanistan, she said, had come to resemble the battlefields of Syria and Sarajevo, with the Taliban making a “strategic decision” to attack urban areas, causing hundreds of deaths among civilians in just the last few weeks. The fighting, she said, comes on top of a punishing drought that has left 18.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

She added: “As one Afghan put it to us recently, ‘We are no longer talking about preserving the progress and the rights we have gained, we are talking about mere survival.’”

Reporting was contributed by Christina Goldbaum, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Michael Schwirtz.

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As Fears Grip Afghanistan, Hundreds of Thousands Flee

KABUL, Afghanistan — Haji Sakhi decided to flee Afghanistan the night he saw two Taliban members drag a young woman from her home and lash her on the sidewalk. Terrified for his three daughters, he crammed his family into a car the next morning and barreled down winding dirt roads into Pakistan.

That was more than 20 years ago. They returned to Kabul, the capital, nearly a decade later after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime. But now, with the Taliban sweeping across parts of the country as American forces withdraw, Mr. Sakhi, 68, fears a return of the violence he witnessed that night. This time, he says, his family is not waiting so long to leave.

“I’m not scared of leaving belongings behind, I’m not scared of starting everything from scratch,” said Mr. Sakhi, who recently applied for Turkish visas for himself, his wife, their three daughters and one son. “What I’m scared of is the Taliban.”

earlier this month. “A failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence will lead to further displacement.”

The sudden exodus harks back to earlier periods of heightened unrest: Millions poured out of Afghanistan in the years after the Soviets invaded in 1979. A decade later, more fled as the Soviets withdrew and the country fell into civil war. The exodus continued when the Taliban came to power in 1996.

Afghans currently account for one of the world’s largest populations of refugees and asylum seekers — around 3 million people — and represent the second highest number of asylum claims in Europe, after Syria.

Now the country is at the precipice of another bloody chapter, but the new outpouring of Afghans comes as attitudes toward migrants have hardened around the world.

After forging a repatriation deal in 2016 to stem migration from war-afflicted countries, Europe has deported tens of thousands of Afghan migrants. Hundreds of thousands more are being forced back by Turkey as well as by neighboring Pakistan and Iran, which together host around 90 percent of displaced Afghans worldwide and have deported a record number of Afghans in recent years.

Coronavirus restrictions have also made legal and illegal migration more difficult, as countries closed their borders and scaled back refugee programs, pushing thousands of migrants to travel to Europe along more dangerous routes.

civilian casualties reach record highs, many Afghans remain determined to leave.

One recent morning in Kabul, people gathered outside the passport office. Within hours, a line snaked around three city blocks and past a mural of migrants with an ominous warning: “Don’t jeopardize you and your family’s lives. Migration is not the solution.”

Central Europe have called to increase their border security as well, fearing the current exodus could swell into a crisis similar to that in 2015 when nearly a million, mostly Syrian migrants entered Europe.

But in Afghanistan, about half of the country’s population is already in need of humanitarian assistance this year — twice as many people as last year and six times as many as four years ago, according to the United Nations.

Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, 40, borrowed $1,000 to bring 36 relatives to Kabul after the Taliban attacked his village in Malistan district. Today his three-room apartment, situated on the edge of the city, feels more like a crowded shelter than a home.

The men sleep in one large living room, women stay in the other and the children cram into the apartment’s one small bedroom alongside bags of clothes and cleaning supplies. Mr. Mohammadi borrows more money from neighbors to buy enough bread and chicken — which have nearly doubled in price as food prices surge — to feed everyone.

Now, sinking further into debt with no relief in sight, he is at a loss for what to do.

“These families are sick, they are traumatized, they have lost everything,” he said, standing near his kitchen’s one countertop — out of earshot from his family. “Unless the situation improves, I don’t know what we will do.”

Asad Timory contributed reporting from Herat; Zabihullah Ghazi from Laghman; Fahim Abed and Jim Huylebroek from Kabul.

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Iranian Hard-Liner Ebrahim Raisi Wins Presidential Election Vote

TEHRAN — Iran’s ultraconservative judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, has been elected president after a vote that many Iranians skipped, seeing it as rigged in his favor.

The Interior Ministry announced the final results on Saturday, saying Mr. Raisi had won with nearly 18 million of 28.9 million ballots cast in the voting a day earlier. Turnout was 48.8 percent — a significant decline from the last presidential election, in 2017.

Two rival candidates had conceded hours earlier, and President Hassan Rouhani congratulated Mr. Raisi on his victory, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported.

Huge swaths of moderate and liberal-leaning Iranians sat out the election, saying that the campaign had been engineered to put Mr. Raisi in office or that voting would make little difference. He had been expected to win handily despite late attempts by the more moderate reformist camp to consolidate support behind their main candidate: Abdolnasser Hemmati, a former central bank governor.

a hard-line cleric favored by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has been seen as his possible successor. He has a record of grave human rights abuses, including accusations of playing a role in the mass execution of political opponents in 1988, and is currently under United States sanctions.

an often strident get-out-the-vote campaign: One banner brandished an image of General Suleimani’s blood-specked severed hand, still bearing his trademark deep-red ring, urging Iranians to vote “for his sake.” Another showed a bombed-out street in Syria, warning that Iran ran the risk of turning into that war-ravaged country if voters stayed home.

pulled the United States out of the nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions in 2018.

The prospects for a renewed nuclear agreement could improve with Mr. Raisi’s victory. Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to be stalling the current talks as the election approached. But American diplomats and Iranian analysts said that there could be movement in the weeks between Mr. Rouhani’s departure and Mr. Raisi’s ascension.

A deal finalized then could leave Mr. Rouhani with the blame for any unpopular concessions and allow Mr. Raisi to claim credit for any economic improvements once sanctions are lifted.

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