PM, President were apprised of the risk posed by chemicals stored at port: report

Lebanese security officials warned the Prime Minister and President last month that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources.

Just over two weeks later, the industrial chemicals went up in a massive blast that obliterated most of the port and swathes of the capital, killed at least 163 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed 6,000 buildings, according to municipal authorities.

A report by the General Directorate of State Security on events leading up to the explosion included a reference to a private letter sent to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab on July 20.

While the content of the letter was not in the report seen by Reuters, a senior security official said it summed up the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January which concluded the chemicals needed to be secured immediately.

Also read: Beirut blast | Lebanon’s President calls for two-week state of emergency

The state security report, which confirmed the correspondence to the President and the Prime Minister, has not previously been reported.

Risk of terror attack

“There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack,” the official told Reuters.

“At the end of the investigation, Prosecutor General (Ghassan) Oweidat prepared a final report which was sent to the authorities,” he said, referring to the letter sent to the prime minister and president by the General Directorate of State Security, which oversees port security.

“I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded,” said the official, who was involved in writing the letter and declined to be named.

The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the July 20 letter.

A representative for Mr. Diab, whose government resigned on Monday following the blast, said the PM received the letter on July 20 and it was sent to the Supreme Defence Council for advice within 48 hours.

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