By Toby Dershowitz and Dylan Gresik
September 26, 2020
Ambassador Nathan Sales, U.S. coordinator for counterterrorism at the Department of State, announced last week that Hezbollah has transported and stored ammonium nitrate throughout Europe. While the disclosure is newsworthy, it also seems consistent with known Hezbollah practices.’ Thus, while France and Spain responded that they had no evidence to support Sales assertion with respect to their own countries, they did not deny that the terrorist group has transported and stored ammonium nitrate on European soil in the past.
“Since 2012,” Sales stated, “Hizballah has established caches of ammonium nitrate throughout Europe by transporting first-aid kits whose cold packs contain the substance. I can reveal that such caches have been moved through Belgium, to France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. I can also reveal that significant ammonium nitrate caches have been discovered or destroyed in France, Greece, and Italy. We have reason to believe that this activity is still underway. As of 2018, ammonium nitrate caches were still suspected throughout Europe, possibly in Greece, Italy, and Spain.”
Addressing Sales’ declarations, Agnes von der Muhll, the French foreign ministry spokeswoman, said, “To our knowledge, there is nothing tangible to confirm such an allegation in France today.” She added, “Any illegal activity committed by a foreign organisation on our territory would be sanctioned by the French authorities with the greatest firmness.” The Spanish embassy in Washington said, “The Spanish authorities have no evidence to suggest that the armed wing of Hezbollah introduced or stored chemicals in Spain for the manufacture of explosives.”
Regardless of whether European officials were parsing Sales’ words or had other reasons for their statements, what is clear is that other European authorities have established that Hezbollah has stored and transported ammonium nitrate on European soil. According to Cypriot authorities, for example, Hezbollah has previously amassed large numbers of first-aid kits to smuggle the bomb-making ingredient into countries.
In 2015 alone, authorities seized over three metric tons of ammonium nitrate stored in London and over eight tons that were guarded by a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus.
According to Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East policy, “[I]nvestigators believe the explosives used in the 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria bus bombing may have come from the batch of chemicals stored in Cyprus.” In addition, Bulgarian press reported on September 24 that a Lebanese-Bulgarian national imported 40 boxes of first-aid kits, each containing 160 grams of ammonium nitrate, shortly before the attack took place. Authorities said the bomb used consisted of ammonium nitrate equivalent to 3 kilograms of TNT. Five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver were killed in the attack.
Hezbollah, designated a terrorist entity by 15 countries, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, also used ammonium nitrate in the 1994 bombing of Argentina’s AMIA Jewish community center that killed 85 people.
During the same online event where Sales made his announcement, German Federal Interior Ministry official Hans-Georg Engelke confirmed the seizure of “ammonium nitrate, in substantial amounts, in southern Germany.” After the raid, in April 2020, Germany designated Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist entity.
Since the massive August 5 explosion in Lebanon, caused by improperly stored ammonium nitrate, French President Emmanuel Macron has presented Lebanese officials with a list of proposed reforms, including the formation of a new government, central bank auditing, and international oversight of aid. But France has been reticent about pushing Hezbollah too hard, for fear of losing influence over the direction of Lebanon’s recovery.
The path forward in aiding the Lebanese people – and protecting Europe – should not entail bowing to and accommodating Hezbollah. What remains clear is that Hezbollah remains a profound present danger to Europe today.
Foundation for Defense of Democracies