France, Spain deny US claim Hezbollah is stockpiling explosives in Europe

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European countries have denied claims by a senior US official that Lebanese Hezbollah has moved and stocked bomb-making equipment across Europe to “carry out major terrorist attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem it necessary “.Speaking in his official capacity to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) on September 17, US State Department counterterrorism coordinator Nathan Sales said he “could reveal” that Hezbollah had moved caches of ammonium nitrate across many European states, including Greece and Italy, Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland.

Allegations of Hezbollah-linked explosives sales in Europe came weeks after a massive explosion caused by tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the Beirut port that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

Ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive substance often used in fertilizers. Sales said the Lebanese group was using first aid kits with cold packs containing the chemicals to transport him across the continent.

Since delivering his remarks, France and Spain have disputed Sales’s account, and according to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, an investigation by law enforcement in Athens has also failed to substantiate the claims. of the American official.

‘No tangible information’

“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,” the Spanish Embassy in Washington said in an early email. week.

The French Foreign Ministry also questioned the US claim.

“To our knowledge, there is currently no tangible information which would allow us to confirm such an allegation with regard to France,” said a spokesperson for the ministry in a statement.

“Any illegal activity committed by a foreign organization on our soil would face the most severe penalties possible from the French authorities. “

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Likewise, Kathimerini reported that an investigation involving the Greek police and intelligence services “failed to reveal that Greek authorities manipulated or intercepted information suggesting that the militant group may be using this country to store such documents ”.

The Athens-based newspaper cited unidentified sources as saying that the remarks by the US official were aimed at pressuring European countries to blacklist Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

The Swiss embassy in Washington refused to confirm or deny Sales’ comments against Hezbollah, saying the country’s foreign ministry “does not comment on the allegations published in the media.”

During his virtual appearance at AJC, Sales urged Europe to impose a blanket ban on the Lebanese group. The European Union designated Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization in 2013, but it allows political activities of the Iran-backed organization.

Britain and Germany banned Hezbollah in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Last week, Sales welcomed the decisions of both countries and called on the rest of Europe to follow suit, rejecting the distinction between the political and military branches of Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah poses a clear and present danger to the United States today,” Sales said.

Maximum pressure campaign

Joe Macaron, a member of the Washington DC Arab Center, said the US official’s claims were part of Washington’s efforts to push Europe to take a more aggressive stance against the Lebanese group.

“This approach by the Trump administration comes as France tries to ease tensions between the United States and Iran in Lebanon and beyond,” Macaron told MEE.

“It is evident that maximum US pressure on Iran is in plenary press mode to put Tehran on the defensive as US-sponsored Arab-Israeli normalization agreements come into effect and arrive. timely a few weeks before the American elections.

“The message is to France as much as to Iran that an agreement between Washington and Tehran before the US election is not in Trump’s electoral interest and that maximum pressure will continue until then. “

“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”

– Spanish Embassy in Washington

US President Donald Trump has ruled out talks with Iran ahead of the November election because his administration has imposed additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic as part of what it calls recovery measures, which European allies Washington have rejected.

The US administration has also piled up sanctions against Hezbollah itself, blacklisting Lebanese companies and politicians linked to the group.

There has been no credible evidence linking Hezbollah to the port explosion. The tonnes of the dangerous chemical held in the port came from a Russian vessel flying the Moldovan flag that was heading for Mozambique before being abandoned in Lebanon in 2013.

He served at the port for years under the supervision of successive Lebanese governments, where Hezbollah and its Western-backed rivals were represented.

The US State Department backed Sales’s remarks on Wednesday, noting previous plots attributed to the Lebanese group in Europe, including the 2015 conviction of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus over stocks of chemicals used to manufacture bombs.

“The State Department supports the new information unveiled by Ambassador Sales at the AJC event on Hezbollah’s ammonium nitrate caching in Europe,” a department spokesperson said. State to MEE.

“Hezbollah’s involvement in terrorist plots and other activities in Europe in recent years is well documented, including its use of ammonium nitrate to fuel explosive devices. “

Previous allegations

This is not the first time that the Iranian-backed group has been accused of stockpiling explosives in Europe. Last year, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that in 2015, British authorities found a warehouse in London full of Hezbollah-linked explosives.

The UK government has not corroborated this report and no arrests related to the alleged incident have been made public. But the State Department cited the incident in its statement to MEE on Wednesday.

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In May, Israeli media reported that Mossad’s advice on large amounts of Hezbollah-linked ammonia nitrate in Germany is what led to Berlin’s decision to ban the Lebanese group.

Last week, at the same AJC virtual event, German Secretary of State Hans-Georg Engelke confirmed that Berlin had found Hezbollah-linked bomb-making equipment in the south of the country. “It was an amount that really worried us,” he said.

Hezbollah, which has deep political, financial and theological ties to Iran, says its main objective is “resistance” against Israel in Lebanon. But the group has been heavily involved in the civil war in Syria, and it participated in an advisory capacity in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq.

However, detractors accuse the group of having networks across the globe, including South America, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula.

In 2013, Bulgarian authorities accused Hezbollah of being behind a bomb attack that targeted an Israeli tourist bus killing six people.

The Lebanese group has denied any involvement in the incident.

– This article has been updated to include a response from the US State Department.

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