A massive blast tore through a warehouse district in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, on Tuesday evening, and some U.S. officials believe it wasn’t an accident.
At about 6 p.m. local time, a shockwave tore through Beirut as the explosion devastated the area around the warehouse. The force of the blast smashed windows and blanketed the entire city with dust and debris. According to the Red Cross, at least 100 people died and thousands more suffered injuries or went missing. According to Red Cross’s top dog in Lebanon, George Kitani, “the catastrophe is very large and unprecedented”.
A Terrifying Incident
US President Donald Trump said the huge explosion that shook Beirut appeared to be a "terrible attack."https://t.co/36LOA0u9pL
— Gandhi the A-10 Warthog Ninja Bomb Pilot🇺🇸🇺🇸 (@Mah_MAGA_Gandhi) August 5, 2020
As the dust settles, questions inevitably arise. Shortly after the blast, Lebanese officials blamed the Beirut disaster on an accidental fire at a waterfront warehouse containing highly explosive materials, including an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. According to a statement issued by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the site served as storage for the materials for over six years. However, he stopped short of explaining why the chemicals were there. Lebanon’s director of the general security directorate later commented that authorities have confiscated the materials at some point. However, he didn’t elaborate any further.
Ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical compound most commonly found in fertilizers. The compound served the primary ingredient in the bomb used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It has also become an infamous explosive component over the years. However, Lebanese officials maintain that the explosion was accidental and not the product of a terrorist attack. No terrorist groups have come forward to claim responsibility for causing the blast either.
Investigations into the blast are ongoing, but U.S. military leaders suspect there could be more to the story. President Trump commented on the explosion during a Tuesday evening press conference. “Let me begin by sending America’s deepest sympathies to the people of Lebanon… Our prayers go out to all the victims and their families,” said Trump. “We have a very good relationship with the people of Lebanon and we will be there to help,” adding, “it looks like an attack.”
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When President Trump’s called the explosion an attack, it seemed like off-handed speculation. However, when a reporter asked if he felt confident about the assertion of it being an attack, Trump doubled down. “I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was… they would know better than I would, but they seem to think it was an attack,” said Trump. “It was a bomb of some kind, yes”
CNN cited three unnamed sources in the Department of Defense who said there was no evidence to indicate foul play as of yet. One source said that the U.S. could increase its forces in the region if investigations determined the explosion was intentional. However, the Pentagon hasn’t made any official ruling so far. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Lebanon is looking into the explosion and the U.S. is looking forward to the outcome of their investigation.
Tensions between Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah and Israel have been on the rise as of late. Israeli reported its forces exchanged gunfire with Hezbollah terrorists near the Israel-Lebanon border last week. If the Beirut explosion is determined to be intentional, the regional stand-off could provide an avenue for further investigation. However, Israel said it played no role in the explosion and offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon through diplomatic channels.