FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
A view shows the grain silo that was damaged during last year's Beirut port blast, during sunset in Beirut, Lebanon, July 29, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 July 2021

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
  • Questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate was left unsafely stored in the capital for years
  • The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people

WASHINGTON: The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing.
As the first anniversary approaches on Aug. 4, major questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate — which can be used to make fertilizer or bombs — was left unsafely stored in a capital city for years.
The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people, wounding thousands, and devastating swathes of Beirut.
The FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, estimates around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded that day, much less than the 2,754 tons that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.
The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.
In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.
FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.
A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.
Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen.
The ammonium nitrate was going from Georgia to Mozambique on a Russian-leased cargo ship when the captain says he was instructed to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut and take on extra cargo.
The ship arrived in Beirut in November 2013 but never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.
The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.
The FBI report said “an approximate amount reaching around 552 metric tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in warehouse 12.”
It noted the warehouse was large enough to house the 2,754 ton shipment, which was stored in one-ton bags, but added “it is not logical that all of them were present at the time of the explosion.”


Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity
Updated 9 sec ago

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity

Syria coronavirus spike sees hospitals reach capacity
DAMASCUS: Hospitals in the Syrian capital Damascus and the coastal province of Latakia have reached capacity due to rising coronavirus admissions, a health official said Sunday.
“We have started transferring Covid-19 patients from the province of Damascus to the (central) province of Homs, and from Latakia to the province of Tartus,” Tawfiq Hasaba, a health ministry official, was quoted as saying by Syrian state TV.
The move came after “hospitals in these areas reached capacity because of a large spike in coronavirus cases,” he added.
Syria on Saturday logged 442 new coronavirus infections in government-held areas — a new daily record for a conflict-hit country that has documented more than 32,580 cases, including 2,198 deaths in regime controlled territory, since the start of its outbreak last year.
“It is the first time the number of cases reaches 400” in one day, Hasaba said, adding that the number of new infections was highest in Damascus, Aleppo and Latakia.
Coronavirus cases have been on the rise across Syria since mid-August, including in the northwest and northeast, large parts of which fall beyond government control.
According to the World Health Organization, only two percent of Syria’s population has been at least partially vaccinated.
Syria’s conflict has since 2011 killed nearly half a million people and ravaged a health care sector struggling to cope with a mass outflux of professionals.
Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the war.

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria
Updated 1 min 24 sec ago

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria

War monitor: Russia raids kill 11 pro-Turkish fighters in Syria
  • Strikes hit school used as a ‘military base’ by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin
BEIRUT: At least 11 fighters from a pro-Turkish rebel group were killed Sunday in Russian air raids in northern Syria, a war monitor said Sunday.
The strikes hit a school used as a “military base” by the Al-Hamza Division outside the north Syria town of Afrin which has been under the control of Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies since 2018, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Eleven fighters were killed and another 13 were wounded in the Russian strikes,” said the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
It said the death toll could climb further amid ongoing efforts to pull victims from the rubble.
Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said such Russian raids are rare in this region of Syria, which has been controlled by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies for three years.
A Russian raid outside Afrin last month targeted a position of Faylaq Al-Sham, another Turkey-backed rebel group, he said.
A spokesperson for the National Army, a coalition of Turkey-backed rebel groups, called Sunday’s attack a “clear message from Russia” to Turkey, showing that there are no “red lines.”
Turkey supports Syrian rebel forces battling President Bashar Assad’s government and it has also launched multiple operations across Syria’s northern border against Kurdish forces and against the Daesh group.
Russia, on the other hand, is a staunch supporter of the Syrian regime and has intervened militarily in support of Assad since 2015.
Although they back opposite sides, Ankara and Moscow have worked together to broker several cease-fire deals in Syria’s northwest, including a 2020 truce agreement in the Idlib region, the country’s last major opposition bastion.

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran
Updated 26 September 2021

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran

Iran says 2 inmates dead in jail south of Tehran
  • Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the UN or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates

TEHRAN: Iranian prison authorities confirmed the deaths of two inmates within a week at a jail south of the capital and opened investigations into the circumstances.
“A committee has been set up to probe the death of Amir-Hossein Hatami in Grand Tehran prison,” penitentiary authorities in the capital announced in a brief statement issued late Saturday.
The Ghanoun newspaper said Hatami was a 22-year who worked in Tehran bazaar and had been arrested after getting into a fight.
On Thursday, the chief of Iran’s prisons, Mohammad-Mehdi Hadj-Mohammadi, ordered an investigation into the death of Chahine Nasseri, another inmate of Grand Tehran, located some 30 kilometers from the capital.
Hadj-Mohammadi last month acknowledged cases of “unacceptable behavior” after footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Tehran’s Evin prison.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the UN or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.


Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference

Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference
Updated 12 min 14 sec ago

Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference

Iraq issues warrants against attendees of Israel normalization conference
  • ‘Legal action will be taken against the rest of the participants once their full names are known’

DUBAI: Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council issued warrants on Sunday for the arrest of people who attended a conference that called for the normalization of ties with Israel in autonomous Kurdistan.

The council mentioned in a statement carried by the Iraq News Agency (INA) that the names of three individuals whom it issues arrest warrants against for calling normalizing ties with Israel. 

They are Wissam Al-Hardan, Mithal Al-Alusi, and a ministry employee Sahar Al-Taie. 

“Legal action will be taken against the rest of the participants once their full names are known,” the council statement added.

The conference drew a chorus of condemnation Saturday from the federal government in Baghdad who rejected the conference's call for normalisation and dismissed the gathering as an “illegal meeting.”

The conference “was not representative of the population’s (opinion) and that of residents in Iraqi cities, in whose name these individuals purported to speak,” the statement said.

The office of Iraqi President Barham Saleh, himself a Kurd, joined in the condemnation.
Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr urged the government to “arrest all the participants,” while Ahmed Assadi, an MP with the ex-paramilitary group Hashed al-Shaabi, branded them “traitors in the eyes of the law.”

The culture ministry, in a statement, said its employee, Tai, who attended the Arbil forum did not represent the ministry, but she had taken part as “a member of a (civil society) organisation.”

(with input from AFP)


Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings
Updated 26 September 2021

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings

Turkey could buy more Russian S-400 missiles despite US warnings
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own
  • The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s president has said he would consider buying a second Russian missile system in defiance of strong objections by the United States.
In an interview with American broadcaster CBS News, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would have to decide its defense systems on its own.
Speaking to correspondent Margaret Brennan in New York this past week, Erdogan explained that Turkey wasn’t given the option to buy American-made Patriot missiles and the US hadn’t delivered F-35 stealth jets despite a payment of $1.4 billion. Erdogan’s comments came in excerpts released in advance of the full interview being broadcast Sunday.
NATO member Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 program and defense officials were sanctioned after it bought the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system. The US strongly objects to the use of Russian systems within NATO and says it poses a threat to the F-35s. Turkey maintains the S-400s could be used independently without being integrated into NATO systems and therefore pose no risk.
The US also sanctioned Turkey in 2020 for its purchase under a 2017 law aimed at pushing back Russian influence. The move was the first time that the law, known as CAATSA, was used to penalize a US ally.
But Erdogan has remained defiant. “Of course, of course, yes,” Erdogan said after stating Turkey would make its own defense choices, in response to Brennan’s question on whether Turkey would buy more S-400s.
The issue is one of several sticking points in Turkish-American relations that also include US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters who Turkey considers terrorists, and the continued US residency of a Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29.