US defense officials contradict Trump’s claim on Beirut ‘attack’

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U.S. officials said on Wednesday that there was no indication that the massive explosion in Lebanon that killed at least 100 people was an attack, contradicting President Donald Trump, who said U.S. generals told her she was probably caused by a bomb.Defense Secretary Mark Esper, when asked about the situation during his remote appearance at the Aspen Security Forum, said the United States “was still getting information about what had happened.”

“Most think it was an accident as reported, and beyond that I have nothing more to report about it,” he said.

Earlier, two officials – speaking only on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments – told The Associated Press that while it was not out of the question that Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut was deliberately caused, the belief so far is that it was very likely. an accident.

From the start, US officials said they didn’t know the cause of the initial blaze and the explosions that set off the larger explosion. But they said they believed reports from Lebanon claiming a large stockpile of ammonium nitrate left over from a seizure were what exploded.

On Tuesday, Trump offered his condolences to the victims and said the United States was ready to help Lebanon.

“It looks like a terrible attack,” he said.

Trump was asked why he called it an attack and not an accident, especially as Lebanese officials said they had not determined the cause of the explosion.

He told reporters at the White House: “It looks like it’s based on the explosion. I have met some of our great generals and they just seem to think it was. It wasn’t a – some kind of manufacturing explosion. event… They seem to think it was an attack. It was some kind of bomb, yes. ”

Esper did not address who Trump was referring to when citing conversations with generals.

At least 1 American killed

From the video and other evidence, experts suggested that the fireworks and ammonium nitrate were the fuel that set off the explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital.

The magnitude of the damage – from the area of ​​the explosion at the Port of Beirut to the windows blown out miles away – resembled other explosions involving the chemical compound commonly used as agricultural fertilizer.

Smoke is seen after Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut. The extent of the damage resembled other explosions involving the chemical compound commonly used as agricultural fertilizer, experts said. (Gaby Maamary / Reuters)

The compound usually does not explode on its own and requires another source of ignition. This was most likely from a fire that engulfed what initially appeared to be fireworks stored in the harbor.

The Lebanese government said it was placing an unknown number of officials at the Port of Beirut under house arrest pending an investigation into how around 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored at the port for years .

“It’s obviously a tragedy,” Esper said. “You know, we are mourning the tens, if not the hundreds, of Lebanese probably killed and thousands injured… When you see the video, it’s just devastating. ”

Esper said the United States was preparing to provide humanitarian aid and medical or other supplies to the Lebanese people.

The US Embassy in Beirut said at least one US citizen was killed and several others were injured in the blast.

“We are working closely with local authorities to determine if other US citizens have been affected,” the embassy said in a statement Wednesday. The embassy said all of its employees were safe and sound.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Wednesday to convey US condolences to the Lebanese people, according to Deputy State Department spokesman Cale Brown.

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