Lebanese security officials warned their leaders about the risks posed by chemicals stored in Beirut more than two weeks before the blast in the capital, it has been reported.
Some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were kept in the city’s port and caused a massive explosion that killed at least 163 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed 6,000 buildings on August 4.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun were told on July 20 the chemicals were not properly secured, according to Reuters, which cited official documents and senior sources.
The country’s entire government resigned on Monday after a wave of public fury against negligent ministers and what many Lebanese see as a corrupt ruling elite, although it is staying on for now as a caretaker government.
Experts are still piecing together the explosion but it is widely believed a fire ignited the ammonium nitrate stockpile, which had been kept at the port since 2013.
A report by Lebanon’s General Directorate of State Security seen by Reuters referred to a private letter sent to the president and prime minister.
The letter has not been seen by any media outlets but a senior security official told the news agency it summed up the findings of an investigation launched in January which said the chemicals needed to be secured immediately.
The official told Reuters: ‘There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack.’
‘At the end of the investigation, Prosecutor General (Ghassan) Oweidat prepared a final report which was sent to the authorities. I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded.’
A spokesperson for Mr Diab appeared to confirm the warning was received but appeared to pass the blame to other officials, explaining it was sent to the Supreme Defence Council within 48 hours.
The spokesperson said: ‘The current cabinet received the file 14 days prior to the explosion and acted on it in a matter of days. Previous administrations had over six years and did nothing.’
Meanwhile a Lebanese judge has begun questioning the country’s top security chiefs including State Security head Major General Tony Saliba.
Around 20 people have been detained over the blast including the heads of Lebanon’s customs department and the head of Beirut’s port, while officials say dozens more have been questioned.
On Sunday, world leaders and international organisations pledged nearly £230 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Beirut in the wake of the explosion.
However they warned that no money would be made available until Lebanese authorities committed to political and economic reforms.
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