Hizbollah has smuggled caches of ammonium nitrate to Europe to use in attacks, a top US counterterrorism official has said.
The Iran-backed Lebanese Shia group had moved ammonium nitrate through Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, Ambassador Nathan Sales, Coordinator for Counterterrorism within the US Department of State, told reporters in a briefing on Thursday.
Ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound often used for explosives which is also sold commercially for use as a fertiliser, caused the August explosion at a Beirut port which killed 190 people and wounded over 6,500.
Some 2,750 tonnes exploded when a warehouse caught on fire.
Hizbollah, which has a political and a militant wing, is in control of parts of the eastern Mediterranean port.
“Today the US government is unveiling new information about Hezbollah’s presence in Europe,” Mr Sales said. “Since 2012, Hezbollah has established caches of ammonium nitrate throughout Europe by transporting first aid kits that contain the substance. I can reveal that such caches have been moved through Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.”
He said significant ammonium nitrate caches have been discovered and destroyed in France, Greece and Italy, and that the US government had “reason to believe this activity is still under way.”
"Why would Hizbollah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil? The answer is clear," Mr Sales told reporters at an American Jewish Committee conference.
“It stores these weapons in place so it can conduct major terrorist attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem necessary,” he said, referring to Iran’s support and funding for the Shia group.
The Telegraph reported in 2017 that nitrate stockpiles were discovered in warehouses in London two years earlier.
This paper established from its reporting that the UK storage was not in isolation but part of an international plot by Hizbollah to lay the groundwork for future attacks.
The Trump administration has taken a maximum pressure approach to Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, sanctioning individuals and businesses linked to Hizbollah in Lebanon.
A number of operatives have been arrested in Kuwait, Cyprus and several other European countries, over the years after stockpiles of the chemical were discovered.
Hizbollah, which is deemed a terrorist organisation by the US and UK, carries out fewer attacks on Western targets than it did during its acme in 1980s, when the group formed to fight the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.