Iran supplied Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group with hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate in 2013-2014, around the same time Lebanon confiscated thousands of tons of the explosive substance that years later led to the deadly Beirut port explosion, according to a report Wednesday.
German daily Die Welt cited Western security services as confirming Tehran’s extra-territorial Quds Force supplied Hezbollah with some 670 tons of ammonium nitrate in mid- and late-2013, charging some $72,000 for it.
The paper also said it had seen invoices for the deliveries.
Evidence released by Lebanese officials indicates that the August 4 Beirut explosion was connected to 2,750 metric tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate which was left unsupervised in the port for some six years.
The material can be used both as a fertilizer and to create bombs.
The ammonium nitrate that exploded at the port, killing 180 people, injuring thousands and devastating swaths of the Lebanese capital, was seized from a ship that stopped in Beirut while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique. Port officials held the ship and its cargo due to various technical defects and a failure to pay fees.
It was then kept in unsafe storage at the port for years, despite numerous appeals by officials to remove the hazardous substance from the city.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has “categorically” denied that his group had stored any weapons or explosives at Beirut’s port. “I would like to absolutely, categorically rule out anything belonging to us at the port. No weapons, no missiles, or bombs or rifles or even a bullet or ammonium nitrate,” Nasrallah said. “No cache, no nothing. Not now, not ever.”
Die Welt acknowledged there was no evidence Hezbollah was responsible for the ammonium nitrate coming to the port. But it suggested the terror group’s interest in the material could have contributed to authorities’ failure to remove it from the port.
Hezbollah has previous connections to ammonium nitrate, including incidents in Germany and the UK, both widely reported at the time, in which its agents were reportedly found with substantial quantities of the material. In London in 2015, following a Mossad tip, British intelligence reportedly found four Hezbollah operatives with 3 tons of ammonium nitrate held in flour sacks. A similar process led to the discovery in Germany of Hezbollah operatives with enough ammonium nitrate “to blow up a city.”
A Channel 13 report earlier this month claimed Hezbollah planned to use the ammonium nitrate stockpile that caused the blast at Beirut’s port against Israel in a “Third Lebanon War.” It did not cite sources.
A Western security expert also told Die Welt Hezbollah may have sought ammonium nitrate for attacks against Israel, noting that the organization was working at the time on digging numerous attack tunnels into Israel, and positing it planned to employ the explosives for attacks using those tunnels.
Lebanese authorities extended until September 18 a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the blast.
The disaster led to demands at home and abroad for an international investigation, calls that have been rebuffed by Lebanon’s political leaders, widely accused of negligence that led to the blast.
Many Lebanese blame the blast on decades of corruption and negligence by Lebanon’s ruling class — consisting largely of ex-warlords from its 1975-1990 civil war.
FBI personnel arrived in Lebanon at the request of Lebanese authorities to assist with the probe. They are are to join other international experts already on the ground, including from France, which has launched its own probe.
Lebanese authorities too have opened an inquiry, despite skepticism at home over the credibility of a state-led investigation.
AFP contributed to this report.