ANGER has gripped Beirut in the wake of the blast which left 135 dead and 5,000 injured amid claims officials knew the warehouse at the centre of the tragedy was a ticking timebomb.

Tensions have reached boiling point among the many mourning lost relatives as government and customs bosses in Lebanon continue to blame each other for the tragedy.

⚠️ Read our Beirut live blog for the latest news & updates

'Hang up the nooses' is now trending across Lebanese social media in an indication of how the people of the broken capital now feel.

And Ramez al-Qadi, a prominent TV anchor, tweeted: "Either they keep killing us or we kill them."

The city's mood changed from one of utter devastation to fury after it emerged state officials were aware of the warehouse packed with illegal chemicals and had been warnedit could "blow up all of Beirut."

The revelation fuelled new fury among a population already rocked by a financial crisis which has left half the country in poverty.

Demonstrators in downtown Beirut attacked the convoy of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and brawled with his bodyguards in the most overt display of anger since Tuesday's explosion.

And activists have vowed to take on the government once the city is eventually cleared oftons of blast debris.

One of those involved in the clear up operation told reporters things need to change in Beirut urgently.

"We're trying to fix this country. We've been trying to fix it for nine months but now we're going to do it our way," said Melissa Fadlallah.

"If we had a real state, it would have been in the street since last night cleaning and working. Where are they?" 

The government has vowed to investigate the disaster and has urged the military to place those responsible for storing the explosive substance under house arrest.

What we know so far:

  • At least 135 people were killed and 5,000 injured in the explosion
  • 300,000 left homeless after blast caused nearly £4bn of damage
  • Boris Johnson has drafted in the Royal Navy to help rebuild Beirut
  • Brit wounded in the blast feared he had been blinded by flying debris
  • Donald Trump now admits explosion could be accident after all
  • Shocking before and after satellite pics show disaster ground zero

But a 45-year-old resident of the devastated Mar Mikhail district, branded the country's politicians "enemies of the state".

"They killed our dreams, our future," said Lina Daoud. "Lebanon was a heaven, they have made it hell."

The Port of Beirut and customs office is notorious for being one of the most corrupt and lucrative institutions in Lebanon where various factions and politicians, including Hezbollah, hold sway.

The investigation is focusing on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years, and why nothing was done about it.

Earlier the Sun Online told how a picture emerged said to show bags of ammonium nitrate packed into the warehouse.

Port officials have however pointed the finger at the government as they claimed to have repeatedly warned the authorities of the dangerous cargo at Warehouse 12.

The startling photo appears to show the storage facility shoddily packed with one ton bags of the chemical – which is known to be used by terrorists in homemade bombs.

Investigative website Bellingcat analysed the photo and said it does appear to match the dock warehouse which exploded yesterday afternoon.

BBC journalist Riam Dalati also tweeted a copy of the photo, saying it appears to show workers stacking the salvaged ammonium nitrate at Warehouse 12.

Thousands were injured in the fireball which flattened buildings, ripped people's clothes from their bodies and damaged properties up to six miles away.

The blast – which has caused up to £4bn worth of damage – was so large it could be heard 110 miles across the sea in Cyprus.

It has emerged the powder-keg of chemicals was shipped by Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin who has been accused of abandoning it in Beirut.

The killer cargo was confiscated in 2014 from the Moldovan-flagged ship Rhosus while en route from Batumi in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia to Mozambique

It had stopped due to “a malfunction” in Beirut where sailors were forced to stay on board to ensure its safety.

Sailors protested that Grechushkin claimed he had gone bankrupt and had "abandoned the ship" – going on hunger strike before finally being allowed to go ashore.

Grechushkin was said to have paid a “huge penalty” for transporting the cargo without authority which led to him going bust – later moving to Cyprus with his wife Irina.

Neither the businessman nor his family have yet commented on the explosion, which had one fifth the power of a nuclear bomb.

The Russian captain of the ship Boris Prokoshev, now 70, warned at the time of the deadly nature of the cargo.

He said: “The vessel’s owner abandoned it and we were abandoned too.

"We were living on a powder keg for ten months without being paid."

Reportedly the blast was sparked when a reckless welder caused a fire at nearby Warehouse 9 – which then spread to the explosive Warehouse 12.

President Michel Aoun said the government was "determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable".

Sources close to the investigation blamed the incident on "inaction and negligence", saying "nothing was done" by committees and judges involved in removing the explosives.

The cabinet ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material since 2014 to be put under house arrest.

Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told Al Jazeera he had only found out about the presence of the explosive material stashed at the port 11 days before the explosion.

"No minister knows what's in the hangars or containers, and it's not my job to know," he said.

The minister claimed he followed up on the matter but his work was then delayed by coronavirus lockdowns.

Najjar said he eventually spoke the general manager of the port on Monday – the day before the blast.

He said he asked him to send him all the relevant documentation, so that he could "look into this matter."

Najjar said he learned on Wednesday that his ministry had sent at least 18 letters to the Beirut urgent matters judge since 2014, asking for the goods to be disposed of. 

"The judiciary didn't do anything," he said. "It's negligence."

What is ammonium nitrate?

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound which is predominantly used in agriculture as a fertiliser – ut is also higling explosive.

It is a white crystalline solid and is highly soluble in water – with the chemical formula NH₄NO₃.

The chemical is applied in granule form into the soil and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen to be released.

Another use of ammonium nitrate is in the food industry where it is used as a nutrient in producing antibiotics and yeast.

In most countries, it is used to make explosives for mining, quarrying and civil construction because of its low cost and ready availability.

It has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the last three decades, including the explosion at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France, in 2001 that killed 31 people.

Ammonium nitrate was also used to create the explosives used in the 2006 Mumbai train bombings.

By itself, ammonium nitrate is not regarded as dangerous but under certain conditions, it can become deadly.

The chemical is classified as an “energetic material” meaning that it produces heat as it decomposes.

If there is a significant amount of ammonium nitrate it can generate enough heat to catch fire and continue to burn eventually causing an explosion. 

Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI that customs had sent six documents to the judiciary warning that the material posed a danger.

He said: "We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why."

Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago warned that if it was not moved it would "blow up all of Beirut".

Two documents revealed that Lebanese Customs had asked the judiciary in 2016 and 2017 to ask the "concerned maritime agency" to re-export or approve the sale of the ammonium nitrate.

One of the documents cited similar requests in 2014 and 2015 – suggesting repeated warnings about the danger were overlooked by the authorities.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed those responsible will "pay the price" as rescue operations continue in Beirut.

International aid is being mobilised across the world to help support the victims and search for those potentially still trapped beneath the rubble.

The US, UK, France, Gulf states and even rivals Israel have offered money and assistance, as President Aoun declared three days of mourning and announced he would release £50m of emergency funds.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Lebanese prime minister told him there would be a "full, thorough and rigorous investigation" to get to the truth.

Mr Raab said: "I think the people of the Lebanon deserve no less – and that there will be full accountability."

He added the the details of Brits caught up in the Beirut blast was still being established – with a number known to have been injured.

HMS Enterprise will carry out survey work in the port to establish the extent of the damage.

British engineering experts have found the blast was "unquestionably" one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever to take place.

The team from the University of Sheffield has calculated the strength of the blast based on the videos and photographs of the catastrophe.

They believe the explosion was the equivalent of 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes of TNT.

Beirut's governor Marwan Aboud said as many as 300,000 people may have been left homeless with many buildings reduced to an uninhabitable mess of rubble and glass.

There are concerns of food shortages and unrest in the city, with the blast compounding anger stemming from a severe economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

US Pentagon sources also described the blast as a tragic accident – after President Donald Trump said he believed it was caused by “a bomb".

Trump said his forces stood ready to assist after the "terrible attack" claiming his security advisors “seem to think it was an attack, a bomb of some kind."

He last night appeared to backtrack on the "attack" claim.

The Foreign Office confirmed several staff based at the embassy more than three miles from the port needed hospital treatment but declined to give any details.

A spokesman said: “All Embassy staff are accounted for. A small number have sustained non- life-threatening injuries and where necessary are receiving medical attention.”

Source: Read Full Article