Hezbollah shipped explosive chemicals to Lebanon prior to Beirut blast: Report

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Iran’s elite Quds Force shipped ammonium nitrate to Hezbollah in Beirut around the same time a Moldovan-flagged tanker arrived carrying 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – the same chemical substance that would later cause an enormous explosion and engulf Beirut’s port and surrounding area, German media outlet WELT reported Wednesday.

Previous reports have found that Hezbollah had stock of the substance in northwest London and Cyprus, while other reports also indicate that stockpiles were present in Germany and Kuwait, WELT reported.

WELT, citing Western security sources, reported that Iran-backed Hezbollah had received large deliveries of ammonium nitrate from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force – a US-designated terror organization.

Ammonium nitrate, commonly used in fertilizer, can also be used in weapon production.

On July 16, 2013, a total of 270 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was delivered from Iran to Lebanon, costing roughly 180,000 euros ($213,200, at today’s exchange rate). Months later, on October 23, another 270 tonnes of the chemical were delivered, costing around 141,000 euros, WELT reported. The article added that a third shipment was made, but the amount delivered was uncertain.

“A total of one billion Iranian rials was calculated for the delivery on April 4, 2014 (around 61,438 euros). Measured against the values of the other two deliveries, this could have been 90 to 130 tons. In total, the three deliveries are for a quantity of 630 to 670 tons of ammonium nitrate,” the WELT article conjectured.

The cargo arriving in October 2013 was transported via plane, presumably on an Iranian airline, such as Mahan Air, which is sanctioned by the United States. The other deliveries were made via land or sea, the article alleged.

The explosion at the Port of Beirut has left at least 178 dead, more than 6,000 injured and destroyed vast swaths of the city.

A general view of the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on Aug. 4. (AFP)
A general view of the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, on Aug. 4. (AFP)

However, there is no evidence that links Hezbollah’s shipments to the ammonium nitrate stored at the port responsible for the explosion.

Hezbollah has strongly denied that it was storing arms at the blast site.

“We have nothing in the port: not an arms depot, nor a missile depot nor missiles nor rifles nor bombs nor bullets nor ammonium nitrate,” he added. However, it has long been assumed that Hezbollah controls at least some aspects of port operations.

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“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).

Obtaining ammonium nitrate

WELT places Hezbollah operative Mohammed Qasir as heading the purchasing operation. Qasir was designated by the US Treasury in 2018 for acting as a “critical conduit for financial disbursements” from the Quds Force to Hezbollah.

Qasir, based in Damascus, Syria, worked closely with a Quds Force unit that was under the supervision of Iranian Commander Qassem Soleimani, who himself was assassinated in January 2020, Washington Institute analyst Matthew Levitt wrote in March 2019.

Hezbollah has been heavily involved in neighboring Syria’s war, and teaming up with the Quds Force meant that the Lebanon group could “develop integrated and efficient weapons procurement and logistics pipelines through Syria and into Lebanon that can be leveraged to greatly expand Hezbollah’s international weapons procurement capabilities,” Levitt wrote.

There is still no explicit evidence linking Hezbollah to the nitrate stored at the port of Beirut, but many have pointed the finger at the Iran-backed group’s regional behavior and past track record as indication that the group was likely linked to the chemicals stored at the port.

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