U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said “most believe” the Tuesday explosion in Beirut, Lebanon was an accident and not a deliberate attack, despite President Donald Trump saying otherwise.
Esper’s assessment of an accident appears to contradict Trump, who previously said U.S. military generals told him the Beirut explosion was not an accident. Esper made his comments at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, Axios reported.
“Still getting information on what happened. Most believe it was an accident, as reported. Beyond that, I have nothing further to report on that. It’s obviously a tragedy,” Esper said.
A day earlier, within hours of the blast on Tuesday, Trump said during a White House press conference, “I’ve met with some of our great generals, and they just seem to feel that it was. This was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event. This seems to be, according to them — they would know better than I would — but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind. Yes.”
The explosion occurred near a port in Beirut and Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab indicated the explosion came from a chemical storage building that housed around 2,700 tons of dangerous material. Diab also indicated officials had held concerns about the storage facility as far back as 2014.
Large sums of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can also be used to make bombs, accounted for some of the dangerous materials stored at the facility in Beirut. The material made its way to the storage facility after it was confiscated from a Russian cargo ship and offloaded at the facility.
“We mourn for the dozens, if not hundreds, of Lebanese possibly killed and thousands hurt. Lebanon’s struggling right now in a number of ways and it’s a shame to see it happen. When you see the video, it’s just devastating,” Esper continued.
Esper also indicated he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken about the incident and that “We’re reaching out to the Lebanese government, have reached out. We’re positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can — humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it — to assist the people of Lebanon.”
The Guardian reported Thursday morning, based on comments by a Lebanese health official, that at least 137 people had been killed as a result of the blast and that at least 5,000 injured. The health official also indicated dozens were still missing and that the death toll could be higher.