Hezbollah members and affiliates had previously been caught in London and Cyprus with large quantities of ammonium nitrate, the highly explosive compound thought to be the cause of the deadly explosion in Beirut this week, according to a report by British newspaper the Telegraph.
The massive explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, killing at least 137 people and injuring over 5,000, is thought to be the result of the ignition of large quantities of ammonium nitrate that were being stored in Beirut’s port.
Watch: The closest footage of the devastating blasts that rocked #Beirut a day earlier has emerged, according to live video shot by two Lebanese citizens living in an apartment opposite the port where the explosions erupted.#Lebanonhttps://t.co/9zqOn4zRCR pic.twitter.com/bzMv3Z9XzR— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 5, 2020
Authorities have acknowledged that the nitrate was being stored in the port, but commentators have speculated about how it arrived there and why it was kept in hangar 12 in close proximity to densely populated central Beirut.
According to a verified legal notice from a Lebanese law firm, the chemicals were offloaded from a Moldovan-flagged tanker in 2013 and had been kept there ever since.
There is no current evidence that the material held in the port belonged to Hezbollah, but some have speculated that the chemicals might be linked to the organization, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the US and other countries.
“The fact that a massive amount of explosive material was just sitting in the Port of Beirut – long suspected to be exploited by Hezbollah for illicit trade and smuggling – raises troubling questions about whether the Iran-backed terror group, which is the political glue that holds together Lebanon’s current government, had any intentions of deploying that material in an attack,” wrote Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president at Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
On Twitter, Schanzer also pointed to old reports that have recently resurfaced of Hezbollah and its affiliates stockpiling quantities of ammonium nitrate elsewhere, including in London.
The Beirut port blast was reportedly caused by 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate. Was it kept there out of negligence or for a reason?— Daniel Schwammenthal (@DSchwammenthal) August 5, 2020
Hezbollah had stached over 3 ton of the compound in London, over 8 tons in Cyprus and used it for the 2012 Burgas bombing.https://t.co/V2fPJncRx5
Hezbollah ammonium nitrate stocks in London, Cyprus
Stocks of ammonium nitrate linked to Hezbollah have been discovered in the UK and Cyprus.
According to the Telegraph, the UK’s MI5 and the Metropolitan Police found three metric tons of ammonium nitrate in northwest London in autumn 2015, after raiding properties belonging to “radicals linked to Hezbollah.”
A man in his 40s was arrested but later released, said the Telegraph, after a tip-off from a foreign government.
The material had reportedly been stored in ice packs, which “provide the perfect cover” because they are easy to transport and hard to prove that they are used for explosives, according to a source who spoke to the Telegraph.
Satellite images released the day after a devastating explosion erupted at #Beirut port show a portion of the land - where a warehouse that housed 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded - carved out due to the sheer force of the blast.https://t.co/8KYzX25cnr pic.twitter.com/U8lQjBOIUA— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 6, 2020
In a similar case, a Hezbollah member was caught with more than 65,000 ice packs in Cyprus.
Hussein Bassam Abdallah, a dual Lebanese and Canadian national, was arrested by police in Cyprus in 2015 and admitted he was a member of Hezbollah’s wing during interrogation, reported the Telegraph.
“Abdallah said the 8.2 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored was for terrorist attacks. He pleaded guilty and was given a six-year prison sentence in June 2015,” added the paper.
He was reportedly also found with a forged British passport, suggesting that he may have been linked to the UK case.
Burgas bombing link
The chemical was reportedly used in the 2012 Burgas bombing in Bulgaria, a suicide bombing attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists that killed six people and injured 32 others.
Hezbollah has been widely accused of carrying out the attack, and in 2013, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry released photographs of two Hezbollah members suspected in the bombing.
According to the Washington Institute, investigators believe that the explosives used in the Burgas attack may have come from the chemicals that were stored in Cyprus.
Hezbollah denies involvement in the attack.
Lebanese #Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah explained in a 2016 speech a “nuclear explosion” that could come detonate in #Israel, using a description that matches the #BeirutBlast which shook the capital.https://t.co/Zk8N7zIncv pic.twitter.com/zRjMlTuID3— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 5, 2020