Beirut would be ‘erased’ had full chemical load exploded, bulk likely stolen: Expert

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The amount of ammonium nitrate which led to the deadly Beirut explosion must have been much less than the original stockpile or else the Lebanese capital would have been “erased,” Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsky said.

The Beirut blast, which claimed the lives of at least 158 people and injured 6,000 others, was so intense it smashed masonry, shattered windows, sucked furniture out of apartments onto the streets and left almost 300,000 people in disaster-stricken Beirut without homes fit to live in, according to Lebanese officials.

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Lebanese President Michel Aoun had said the explosion was due to a stockpile of 2,750 tonnes of the industrial chemical ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and explosives, catching fire after having been stored at the port since 2013 without safety measures.

However, Murakhovsky said that if the full amount announced by Lebanese officials did explode, it would have erased Beirut off the map.

The military expert added in an interview with Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that it is much more likely that large amounts from such a stockpile were stolen over the years.

Read: Fire, blast, mushroom smoke cloud, wreckage: Timeline of Beirut explosion footage

Lebanon’s former administrative development minister May Chidiac said on Friday that ammonium nitrate is not used by armies but rather by “terrorist organizations.”

She said in a tweet: “2,700 tonnes seized six years ago was being used for military targets,” suggesting that the explosion could have been an attempt to “divert attention away from missing quantities.”

Chidiac also cited Murakhovsky’s analysis: “Russian expert Viktor Murakhovsky said that certainly most of the ammonium nitrate was stolen over a period of six years, because the explosion would have definitely wiped Beirut off the map. Based on the blast, it appears the amount of ammonium nitrate [that exploded] did not exceed 300 tonnes.”

A Beirut-based journalist shared pictures of what she said were the bags of ammonium nitrate at the port days prior to the explosion, adding: “This is how the death bags were piled up. Hard to believe this would meet minimum standards anywhere in the world.”

The Beirut blast is widely blamed on the incompetence and corruption of the ruling elite.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters had gathered in the streets of Beirut to voice their anger at the political elite they hold accountable for turning the capital into a disaster zone.

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