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Lebanon's Leaders Received Dire Warning 3 Weeks Ago

Report, letter warned Beirut could be leveled if chemicals weren't secured
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2020 9:52 AM CDT

(Newser) – Security officials warned Lebanon's president and prime minister that the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut's port could explode, destroying the city, just two weeks before that more or less happened. That's according to Reuters, which got its hands on a state security report on the events leading up to last week's explosion. The report—noting that the Russian-chartered, Moldovan-flagged vessel carrying the material had been traveling from Georgia to Mozambique when it docked in Beirut in late 2013 and was impounded for outstanding debts—references a July 20 letter sent to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab. (The prime minister resigned Monday.) An official involved in crafting the letter says it recapped the findings of a judicial investigation and warned that the material needed to be secured immediately.

A rep for Diab says he forwarded it to the Supreme Defense Council for a recommendation. Last week, Aoun said he'd directed the council's secretary general to act as needed. "I am not responsible!" he said, per Reuters. "I have no authority to deal with the port directly." Port, customs, and security officials had requested the removal of the ammonium nitrate every six months since 2015, per Reuters. It had been unloaded in October 2014 and inspected the following year. But the army declined to accept it, as did the Lebanese Explosives Company. An American contractor working with the US Army warned about the chemicals some four years ago, according to a US diplomatic cable seen by the New York Times. But a senior State Department official says it was "an unofficial site visit" and the department had no record of his findings until last week. (Read more Beirut stories.)

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