Expert says Beirut blast caused by burning military missiles

Explosives expert claims Beirut explosion that killed 160 was caused by burning military missiles – not ammonium nitrate – because the blast cloud was orange not yellow

  • Danilo Coppe, an expert nicknamed Mr Dynamite, revealed that ‘I think there were armaments there’
  • Claims come as official’s bodyguard fired rounds over heads of protesters amid escalating demonstrations
  • The Beirut explosion on August 4 killed 160 people, wounded 6,000 and left 300,000 homeless 

An explosives expert has claimed the Beirut blast was caused by burning military missiles – not ammonium nitrate.

Danilo Coppe, 56 and from Parmesan in Italy, is one of the country’s leading explosive experts. 

He believes the August 4 blast, which killed 160 people, wounded 6,000 and destroyed 300,000 homes, was not caused by ammonium nitrate because the colour of the cloud was orange. 

The explosives expert, nicknamed Mr. Dynamite, explained that when ammonium nitrate detonates, it generates an unmistakable yellow cloud. 

At least 160 died when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse went up in flames

But videos of the explosion show orange plumes of smoke, Mr Coppe told Corriere.  

‘There should have been a catalyst, because otherwise it wouldn’t all have exploded together. 

‘You can clearly see a brick orange column tending to bright red, typical of lithium participation. Which in the form of lithium-metal is the propellant for military missiles. I think there were armaments there,’ he said.

Mr Coppe explained that he thought there was a first, larger explosion, which may have started a fire where the ammunition was stored. 

He claimed that this would have then spread to ‘where there was some high explosive contained in rockets or missiles’. 

The explosion was believed to be a fifth of the size of Hiroshima was so enormous that it altered the shape of not only of Beirut’s skyline but even of its Mediterranean coastline. 

Mr Coppe explained that he thought there was a first, larger explosion, which may have started a fire where the ammunition was stored

His claims come as the personal bodyguard of top Lebanese official Nabih Berry was seen firing rounds at protesters as fury over the Beirut explosion threatens to spark a revolution. 

Sporting jeans and a black top, the bodyguard pointed a firearm at swarms of demonstrators yesterday afternoon and shot rounds over their heads.  

Berri, 82, is the leader of the biggest Shi’a faction in the parliament, and is backed by Hezbollah.  

His portrait was last week hung on the gallows as protesters demonstrated against the political leadership they blame for the explosion. 

Fires were still burning at the destroyed port on Wednesday morning as the full extent of the devastation – in a country that was already in the midst of an economic crisis – was laid bare

The personal guard of Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament – shoots live rounds over the heads of protesters

A cut out of Berri, who is the leader of the biggest Shi’a faction in the parliament and is backed by Hezbollah, was hung from the gallows in downtown Beirut last week

Berri’s guard crouches down as he aims above protesters’ heads before firing rounds

  Yesterday Iran said that countries should refrain from politicising the massive blast in and urged the US to lift sanctions against Lebanon.

‘The blast should not be used as an excuse for political aims … the cause of the blast should be investigated carefully,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a televised news conference.

Iran backs Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite Muslim group that is among Lebanon’s most powerful political forces, which Washington considers a terrorist group and penalises with sanctions.

Lebanese anti-government protesters try to break through a barrier placed by Lebanese police to block a road leading to the parliament building during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, 09 August

Ammonium nitrate – the terrorist’s bomb ingredient 

Ammonium nitrate – identified as the cause of the deadly explosion in Beirut – is an odourless crystalline substance used as a fertilizer that has been behind many industrial explosions and terrorist attacks over the decades. 

Two tonnes of it was used to create the bomb in the 1995 Oklahoma City attack that destroyed a federal building, leaving 168 people dead, and it has been widely used by the Taliban in improvised devices.

Experts say a fire in Beirut started after a spark from a welder likely ignited the highly reactive chemical, causing a blast the equivalent to three million kilotons of TNT, killing at least 100 people and leaving thousands more injured.

There were 2,750 tonnes of the hazardous chemical held in the warehouse at the time of the explosion – which measured as the equivalent of a 3.5 earthquake. 

Death and injury from the explosion would have come in a number of phases, according to Dr David Caldicott from the Australian National University. 

‘Primary injuries are blast-related, as a consequence of the overpressure wave interacting with the hollow space in victims; lung injuries are often survived, but subsequently fatal, and bowel injuries are common.

‘Secondary injuries are caused by flying debris; effectively environmental shrapnel.

‘Tertiary injuries are as a consequence of being thrown by the blast, and quaternary injuries by other features such as inhalation.’ 

When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups to create bombs.

As well as the Oklahoma City bomb in the US, it has been used in a number of IRA attacks on the UK. 

These include the Bishopsgate attack in April 1993 that left 40 injured and a 40ft wide crater, and a 3,300lb bomb in Manchester in June 1996 that left 2000 injured but no deaths due to a phone warning an hour before the blast. 

In agriculture, ammonium nitrate fertiliser is applied in granule form and quickly dissolves under moisture, allowing nitrogen to be released into the soil.

However, under normal storage conditions and without very high heat, it is difficult to ignite ammonium nitrate, Jimmie Oxley, a chemistry professor at the University of Rhode Island, said.

‘If you look at the video (of the Beirut explosion), you saw the black smoke, you saw the red smoke – that was an incomplete reaction,’ she said.

‘I am assuming that there was a small explosion that instigated the reaction of the ammonium nitrate – whether that small explosion was an accident or something on purpose I haven’t heard yet.’

That’s because ammonium nitrate is an oxidiser – it intensifies combustion and allows other substances to ignite more readily, but is not itself very combustible.

For these reasons, there are generally very strict rules about where it can be stored: for example, it must be kept away from fuels and sources of heat.

In fact, many countries in the European Union require that calcium carbonate to be added to ammonium nitrate to create calcium ammonium nitrate, which is safer.

In the United States, regulations were tightened significantly after the Oklahoma City attack, with inspections required if more than 2,000lbs of it are stored in one place.  

Demonstrators attack a protection wall leading to the Parliament square during a protest on August 8

Footage believed to be the closest captured during the devastating blast in Beirut shows the blaze that triggered the explosion

A warehouse fire sparked by a welder set light to 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that was being stored at the city’s port, causing an explosion with force roughly equal to a fifth of the atomic bomb which levelled Hiroshima

French President Emmanuel Macron visited shattered streets on Thursday, two days after the chemical explosion in the dock area, as crowds demanded an end to decades of corrupt politics of patronage.

Asked about the visit, Mousavi said: ‘Some countries have been trying to politicise this blast for their own interests.’

Macron told an emergency donor conference on Sunday that donors would watch closely how the aid was spent.

Mousavi also said that ‘if America is honest about its assistance offer to Lebanon, they should lift sanctions’. 

Lebanon’s government is hanging by a thread as thousands of protesters continue to take to the streets and clash with police.

They have exchanged tear gas and molotov cocktails, with the army drafted in to take control of Martyrs’ Square in the city centre. 

It is believed one police officer fell to his death following an ‘assault’ by protestors, and dozens of demonstrators are injured. 

The explosion that disfigured the city and shocked the world is widely perceived as a direct consequence of the incompetence and corruption that have come to define Lebanon’s ruling class.

Two cabinet ministers have resigned, including a top aid to the premier, amid signals that the government may unravel entirely.

A demonstrator uses a slingshot in a protest following Tuesday’s blast, in Beirut, Lebanon August 9, 2020

Riot police march toward demonstrators during an anti-government protest following Tuesday’s massive explosion which devastated Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday

As the political fallout continued, protesters converged again on the parliament area Sunday afternoon, setting off another night of violent demonstrations. 

Hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces, attempting to breach the heavily-guarded parliament.

Security forces responded with tear gas and chased the protesters in the streets of downtown, in a smaller repeat of scenes from the night before.

Warehouses full of goods including cars in the immediate area surround the blast were completely destroyed by the impact of the explosion the size of a small nuclear bomb

French President Emmanuel Macron reacts during a donor teleconference with other world leaders concerning the situation in Lebanon following the Beirut blast, in Fort de Bregancon in Bormes-les-Mimosas, France, August 9

Earlier Sunday, the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad, in which she cited failure to meet the people’s aspirations and last week’s blast, was followed by a swirl of reports that other ministers were also resigning. 

Late Sunday, Environment Minister Demanios Kattar resigned, calling the ruling system ‘flaccid and sterile.’

He stepped down despite closed-door meetings into the evening and a flurry of phone calls between Prime Minister Hassan Diab and several ministers following Abdel-Samad’s announcement. 

If seven of the 20 ministers resign, the Cabinet would effectively have to step down and remain in place as a caretaker government. 

Maha Yahya, the director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, said the discussions clearly point to backroom deals that seek to put together a new government that’s acceptable to domestic and international powers, as well as the angered public.

The current government ‘really has been a lame duck,’ she said, unable to undertake any reform or show independence in a highly divisive political atmosphere. ‘Even the ministers are deserting the sinking ship.’  

Tear gas and rubber bullets were used by the Lebanese army to try and break up crowds of protesters last night 

French experts working at the scene of the explosion say that the crater left by the explosion measures as large as 43-metre (141 foot) deep

Hundreds of tons of highly explosive material were stored in the waterfront hangar, and the blast sent a shock wave that defaced the coastline of Beirut – destroying hundreds of buildings. 

World leaders yesterday pledged more than 250 million euros to rebuild Beirut. 

Fifteen government leaders, including Donald Trump took part in a conference call hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and the UN. 

The donor nations also urged Lebanon to ‘fully commit themselves to timely measures and reforms’ in order to unlock longer-term support for the country’s economic and financial recovery.

And they said assistance for ‘an impartial, credible and independent inquiry’ into Tuesday’s explosion ‘is immediately needed and available, upon request of Lebanon.’ 

From the Ottoman Empire to now: What went wrong in Lebanon? 

1516-1918 – Lebanon was part of the vast Ottoman Empire that covered ancient Persia, the Mediterranean and the Balkans.

1920 – Post-World War One, The League of Nations grants the mandate for Lebanon and Syria to France as the empire is partitioned off.

The mandate system was supposed to differ from colonialism, with the governing country intended to act as a trustee until the inhabitants were considered eligible for self-government. At that point, the mandate would terminate and an independent state would be born.   

1943 – France agrees to transfer power to the Lebanese government on January 1 following protests for self-determination.

1948 – Thousands of Palestinian refugees arrive in Lebanon following the Arab-Israeli war and the establishment of Israel to the south of Lebanon.

1958 – Tensions between Maronite Christians and Muslims start a civil war, and President Camille Chamoune asks the US to send in troops to preserve Lebanon’s independence.  

1967 – Palestinians uses Lebanon as a base for attacks against Israel, as another wave of Palestinians arrive following the outbreak of the Six-Day War.

1968 – Beirut airport is attacked by Israel in retaliation for alleged Lebanese support of Palestinian terrorists, with strikes continuing for six years.

1975 – Political Christian extremists ambush a bus in Beirut and kill 27 of its passengers. These clashes start the civil war.  

1976 – After fighting spreads throughout the country, President Suleiman Franjieh calls in Syrian troops. The Syrians side with the Maronites Christians and attempt to control the Palestinians.

Later that year, an Arab summit in Riyadh sets up the Syrian-led Arab Deterrent Force to maintain peace between the Muslim and Christian forces.

1978 – The Palestine Liberation Organisation attacks an Israeli bus, killing 34, causing Israel to invade and occupy southern Lebanon. The UN Security Council calls on Israel to withdraw but they hand power to the Christian militia. 

1981 – The US negotiates a ceasefire between Israel and the PLO but it only applies to Lebanon. The PLO continues to attack Israel from Jordan and the West Bank.

1982 – Israel launches air raids on Beirut. The PLO launches counter-attacks from southern Lebanon, prompting the UN Security Council to issue a resolution calling on all sides to adopt a ceasefire. The following day, Israel invades Lebanon. 

1983 – Israel agrees to withdraw from Lebanon on condition that Syria does the same but Damascus refuses. The Israelis eventually withdraw to a buffer zone.

1984 – US forces leave Lebanon and factional conflict worsens over the next five years. 

1987 – Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Rashid Karami, is assassinated and Salim al-Huss becomes acting PM.

1988 – Outgoing President Amine Gemayel appoints an interim military government under Maronite Commander-in-Chief Michel Aoun in East Beirut when presidential elections fail to produce a successor.

It leaves the country with two rival governments, the other being Prime Minister Selim el-Hoss’ Syria-backed administration in West Beirut.

1989 – Aoun launches a War of Liberation against Syrian occupation and rival militia. The Taif Agreement is negotiated, marking the first steps in the ending of the civil war. 

1990 – Syrian forces defeat Aoun, forcing him to take refuge in the French embassy in Beirut.

1991 – The National Assembly orders the dissolution of all militias, except for the powerful Shia group Hezbollah. The South Lebanon Army (SLA) refuses to disband. An amnesty is given for certain crimes. 

1993 – In an attempt to combat Hizbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). 

2000 – Israel releases 13 Lebanese prisoners held without trial for more than 10 years and withdraws its troops from southern Lebanon after a 17 year occupation. In October, Hariri returns as prime minister. 

2004 – UN Security Council adopts a resolution calling for foreign troops to leave Lebanon. Prime Minister Rafik Hariri resigns after parliament votes to extend Lahoud’s term as president by three years.

2005 – Rafik Hariri is killed by a car bomb in Beirut. The attack sparks anti-Syrian rallies. Calls for Syria to withdraw its troops intensify until its forces leave in April. Assassinations of anti-Syrian figures become a feature of political life.

An anti-Syrian alliance led by Saad Hariri, son of the murdered PM, wins control of parliament at elections. Hariri ally Fouad Siniora becomes prime minister. 

2006 – Israel attacks after Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and the damage to civilian infrastructure wide-ranging in 34-day war. UN peacekeeping force deploys along the southern border. 

2007 – Siege of the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared following clashes between Islamist militants and the military. More than 300 people die and 40,000 residents flee before the army gains control of the camp.  

2008 – Lebanon establishes diplomatic relations with Syria for first time since both countries gained independence in 1940s. 

2009 June – The pro-Western March 14 alliance wins parliamentary elections and Saad Hariri forms unity government. 

2011 January – Government collapses after Hezbollah and allied ministers resign. 

2012 – The Syrian conflict that began in March 2011 spills over into Lebanon in deadly clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli and Beirut.  

UN praises Lebanese families for having taken in more than a third of the 160,000 Syrian refugees who have streamed into the country. 

2013 – European Union lists the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. This makes it illegal for Hezbollah sympathisers in Europe to send the group money, and enables the freezing of the group’s assets there. 

2020 January – Mass protests against economic stagnation and corruption bring down the government of Saad Hariri, who is succeeded by the academic Hassan Diab.

2020 June – Protests resume after massive falls in the value of the currency and the impact of the Cvoid-19 lockdown drive half the population into poverty.

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