After US claims, France says no evidence of Hezbollah explosives stores

After US claims, France says no evidence of Hezbollah explosives stores

FILE PHOTO: Ambassador Nathan Sales Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security Democracy and Huma
FILE PHOTO: Ambassador Nathan Sales Acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security Democracy and Human Rights and Coordinator for Counterterrorism speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

PARIS: France's foreign ministry on Friday (Sep 18) said there was no evidence to suggest the armed wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah was storing chemicals to make explosives in France after a senior US official said the group had set up caches in Europe since 2012.

Speaking on Thursday, Nathan Sales, the US State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, accused the Iran-backed group of smuggling and storing chemicals, including ammonium nitrate, from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland.

"It stores these weapons in places so it can conduct major terrorist attacks whenever its masters in Tehran deem necessary," Sales said in a briefing without elaborating or providing evidence of the activities.

Ammonium nitrate is an industrial chemical commonly used in fertilisers and as an explosive used for quarrying and mining. It is considered relatively safe if uncontaminated and stored properly.

READ: State of collapse: Can Lebanon's troubled leadership save the country?

It is extremely dangerous if contaminated, mixed with fuel or stored unsafely, as was seen at the Beirut port in August after 2,750 tonnes of it exploded, destroying the port and killing at least 190 people.

"To our knowledge, there is nothing tangible to confirm such an allegation in France today," foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in response to Sales' allegations.

Unlike the United States, which has designated the heavily armed and politically powerful Hezbollah movement as a terrorist group since 1997, France has said its elected arm has a legitimate political role.

France is spearheading efforts to set Lebanon on a new course after decades of corrupt rule that has led to its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

READ: 'Not yet too late': France says Lebanon must act to deliver new Cabinet

Its European allies, Germany and Britain, also consider the group a terrorist organisation, but French officials argue that ostracising it would make efforts to resolve the crisis impossible.

Sales said the chemicals had been smuggled into Europe in first-aid kits and were possibly in Spain, Greece and Italy.

"Any illegal activity committed by a foreign organisation on our territory would be sanctioned by the French authorities with the greatest firmness," von der Muhll said.

Source: Reuters/ta

Bookmark