Beirut: Officials warned of disaster in July

Government documents seen by Reuters show that Lebanon's prime minister and president were reportedly warned of a possible major disaster in Beirut as late as July -- just two weeks before the blast.

... 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 and at least 163 people are dead, over 6,000 wounded, and much of the capital 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 summarized the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January. It concluded 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.

Video Transcript

- Government documents seen by Reuters show that Lebanon's prime minister and president were reportedly warned of a possible major disaster in Beirut as late as July, just two weeks before the blast, 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 and at least 163 people are dead, over 6,000 wounded, and much of the capital 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 20th.

According to a senior security official, the letter summarized the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January. It concluded 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 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.