Ticking time bomb? Explosive stash that devastated Beirut was there since 2014, PM says vowing to punish responsible

As Lebanon’s PM Hassan Diab picked through the rubble in his Beirut office, he promised that those responsible for a devastating warehouse explosion that destroyed much of the city would “pay the price.”

A devastating explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday evening, killing more than 70 people and injuring at least 2,700. Large swathes of the Lebanese capital were damaged by the blast, including the offices of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Diab righted fallen flags and picked his way around collapsed wooden doors, and as he addressed the nation on Tuesday night, he promised retribution for the tragic blast.

“I promise you that this catastrophe will not pass without accountability,” he said in a televised address, adding “those responsible will pay the price.”

Diab did not insinuate that the blast was a military or terrorist attack – that much has already been denied by both Hezbollah militants and Israeli officials. Instead, he seemingly confirmed earlier reports that the explosion originated at a warehouse that had been storing explosive chemicals for several years.

“Facts about this dangerous warehouse that has been there since 2014 will be announced and I will not preempt the investigations,” he said. 

The explosion was initially blamed on a fire aboard a ship carrying fireworks. Lebanese Customs Director Badri Daher then told local media that a warehouse containing sodium nitrate had exploded, but did not rule out the possibility that another warehouse containing fireworks may have caught fire first.

Speaking to local media, Lebanon’s General Security director Abbas Ibrahim later pinned the explosion on a 2,750-ton stash of ammonium nitrate. Predominantly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer, ammonium nitrate is also a potent blasting agent that presents hazards even in production and storage. The chemical was responsible for a massive industrial explosion in the Chinese city of Tianjin in 2015 and a deadly Toulouse chemical factory explosion in 2001.

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