Danilo Coppe, one of Italy’s best known explosives experts, said Friday that he did not believe the Beirut Port explosion was caused by ammonium nitrate, but rather an arms warehouse at or near the site.
“I do not believe there was that amount of ammonium nitrate at the Port of Beirut, nor that there was a fireworks depot,” he told the Italian daily Corriere.
The expert, nicknamed Mr. Dynamite, explained that when ammonium nitrate detonates, it generates an unmistakable yellow cloud.
“Instead, from the videos of the explosion, in addition to the white sphere that can be seen expanding – which is condensation of the sea air – you can clearly see a brick orange column tending to bright red, typical of lithium’s presence.”
He said the explosion was that of a weapons warehouse.
“Lithium-metal is a propellant for military missiles, so I think there were armaments there,” Coppe confirmed.
He explained it was not 2,700 tons that exploded, because if it had been 2,700 tons that would mean 100 containers of ammonium nitrate.
“And 100 containers do not explode simultaneously like that. Anything is possible in this life, but I don't think it was ammonium nitrate that exploded,” the expert noted.
Tuesday's massive explosion killed 154 people, injured 5,000 and smashed a swathe of the city.
Lebanon’s Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014.
Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates.