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Why Are Fingers Pointed At Hezbollah In Beirut Explosion?

A combination of satellite images shows the port of Beirut on June 9, 2020 and on August 5, 2020, after an explosion
A combination of satellite images shows the port of Beirut on June 9, 2020 and on August 5, 2020, after an explosion

Although the ammonium nitrate that caused the massive explosion in Beirut on August 4 is not directly linked to Hezbollah, some people have been holding the militant group responsible for the tragedy and pointed out the historical cases of the use of the explosive by Hezbollah.

Those who accuse the group of the involvement in the tragic explosion, raising large swaths of the Lebanese capital to the ground, allege that Hezbollah prevented the stash from being disposed of and also cite its history of stockpiling and using the material in several operations around the world in the past few decades.

The explosive chemicals that caused the blast were seized by Lebanese authorities in 2013 from a Moldovan-flagged ship en-route from Georgia to Mozambique and stored at a warehouse at Beirut Port where they stayed despite the massive risk and repeated pleas by the port authority until August 4.

Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah on August 7 strongly denied that his group had any role in the management of Beirut Port or had any warehouses there. "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 said in a televised speech.

"Hezbollah shouldn’t be absolved of responsibility for the incident, as it hardly seems plausible that the group was unaware of the presence of the deadly cargo in the port’s warehouse, despite Nasrallah’s public denial to the contrary," David Daoud wrote in the Atlantic Council website on August 7.

Daoud has pointed out that the Hezbollah perhaps more than any other group in Lebanon is acutely aware of the danger that such chemicals —even if not of a military grade—pose for civilians.

He has raised the question of why Hezbollah failed to raise the issue of the explosives through its allies who headed the Transportation Ministry responsible for all Lebanese ports and the Finance Ministry which controls the Customs Authority or raise public concern about it through its vast resources.

Hezbollah's name is tied with ammonium nitrate in several historical cases the most recent of which was in May this year when Israel's Channel 12 news reported that Mossad had given information to Germany on Hezbollah’s activities on its soil, including stashing of hundreds of kilograms of ammonium nitrate, ahead of the country banning the Lebanese terror group.

Germany officially banned both the military and political wings of Hezbollah a “Shiite terrorist organization” on April 30 when German police and special forces stormed mosques linked with the group across the country.

In June 2019 Daily Telegraph said British intelligence acting on a tip from a foreign intelligence agency in 2015 had caught an alleged Hezbollah terrorist stockpiling more than three tons of the explosive packed in thousands of disposable ice packs in North West London but never divulged the plot.

In a similar case in May 2015 in Cyprus a Hezbollah agent was found with 8.2 tons of ammonium nitrate, also stored in ice packs, in his home.

In January 2012 a Swedish-Lebanese citizen with alleged Hezbollah ties was arrested in Thailand with three tons of ammonium nitrate.

The explosive was also used in series of attacks blamed on Hezbollah including the 2012 attack on a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria which killed five. The chemical was used in the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires that killed 85 as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in the same city that killed 29. Both events were linked to Hezbollah and Iran.

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    Iliya Jazayeri

    Iliya Jazayeri is a staff writer at Radio Farda and an specialist in Arab affairs.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.