Government documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources show that Lebanon’s prime minister and president were reportedly warned of a possible major disaster in Beirut as late as July by Lebanese security officials – just two weeks before the blast.
Documents saying that “customs and security officials made pleas to judges about it roughly every six months for years” and “that an accident made by the very people trying to secure the explosive material may be what triggered the explosion”.
Fast forward to today and at least 163 people are dead, over 6,000 wounded, and much of the capital is in ruins.
The documents come from a report by Lebanon’s General Directorate of State Security, and include a private letter sent to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab on July 20.
According to a senior security official the letter summarised the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January.
It concluded that the chemicals needed to be secured immediately, as had been warned before.
The investigation also found that the warehouse was unguarded and had a hole in its wall, as well as broken doors.
The senior official involved in writing the letter – who declined to be named – said, quote, “I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded,” and that “this material if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack.”
An attempt was made to repair the holes in the warehouse. A repair crew was sent in, apparently unsupervised, according to the security official. A fire was accidentally set off by a welder’s torch during the repairs, which led to the explosion.
The prime minister’s office and the presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the letter, although President Aoun confirmed last week that he had been informed about the material.
He told reporters he had directed security officials to “do what is necessary” saying that he was not responsible and has no direct authority over the port.
Protests over the blast are raging throughout the country and Prime Minister Diab’s government has already resigned.