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Lebanon army unearths 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in Beirut port

September 4, 2020 at 2:54 pm

A view of damaged buildings after a fire at a warehouse with explosives led to massive blasts on 4 August, in Beirut, Lebanon [Enes Canlı/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s army yesterday unearthed 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored near the entrance to Beirut port where 2,750 tonnes of the substance exploded killing nearly 200 and injuring thousands more a month ago.

Stores of other potentially explosive chemicals were also unearthed in the port yesterday, according to the port’s Director Basem Al Qaisi.

Beirut port’s director was quoted by local daily Al Joumhouria as confirming that “there are a number of containers containing explosive materials at the port”.

Al Qaisi added that he had requested custom authorities “implement the law” and remove the containers by forcing shipping companies to re-export their products.

The state-run National News Agency, meanwhile, carried a statement claiming Lebanese army engineers were “dealing with [the ammonium nitrate]”.

Yesterday’s discovery is not the first time dangerous chemicals have been unearthed in Beirut’s port since the blast.

Only days after the explosion, French and Italian chemical experts sifting through the remains of the port identified nearly 20 containers thought to contain dangerous substances. Moreover, at least one of the chemical stores was reported to be leaking.

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According to an Al Jazeera report, the containers were later removed from Beirut port and secured in a safe location.

In the aftermath of the 4 August explosion, several international governments have scrambled to remove, or secure ammonium nitrate stores held within their borders.

To date, Iraq, Australia, India, Senegal and the UK have all admitted to storing the substance. All say they have either secured or removed the ammonium nitrate from transport hubs such as ports and airports.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the explosion is ongoing, led by Lebanese Judge Fadi Sawwan and assisted by international experts, including personnel from the US’ FBI.

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Lebanon is one long tale of disaster and crisis – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

To date, 25 suspects named in the initial lawsuit over the blast are in custody. The detainees include the Director-General of Beirut customs Badri Daher and the Director-General of Beirut Port Hassan Qureitem, who were arrested two weeks ago.

The exact circumstances surrounding the blast remain unclear, though Lebanese security forces have advanced the theory sparks from a welding iron used to carry out maintenance on Beirut port’s warehouse 12 hours before the explosion caused the hangar’s contents to ignite.

The hypothesis has been rejected by many observers, including Lebanese protesters, many of whom blame government negligence and corruption for the blast.

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