Steve August 27, 2020
after-beirut-blast,-israel-revives-tale-of-hezbollah-ammonium-nitrate-terror-plots

Reprinted from The Grayzone with
the author’s permission.

Israeli officials have exploited
the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut this August to revive a dormant
propaganda campaign that had accused the Lebanese militia and political party
Hezbollah of storing ammonium nitrate in several countries to wage terror attacks
on Israelis.

The Israeli intelligence apparatus
had planted a series of stories from 2012 to 2019 claiming Hezbollah sought
out ammonium nitrate as the explosive of choice for terrorist operations. According
to the narrative, Hezbollah planned to covertly store the explosive substance
in locations from Southeast Asia to Europe and the US – only to be foiled repeatedly
by Mossad. In each one of those cases, however, the factual record either contradicted
the Israeli claims or revealed a complete dearth of evidence.

The narrative first debuted
in the Israeli press after a June 2019 story in the British pro-Israel daily
The Telegraph on alleged Hezbollah storage of the explosive around London. The
Times of Israel introduced for the first time the much
broader theme
that Hezbollah planned to use the explosive for “huge, game-changing
attacks on Israeli targets globally.”

Next, “new
details”
appeared in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth from “unnamed Israeli
intelligence officials,” disclosing how Israel had supposedly stymied ammonium
nitrate-based terror plots by Hezbollah in London, Cyprus and Thailand.

Following the calamity of the
Beirut explosion, the narrative story was opportunistically revived in the Israeli
media, with The Times of Israel summarizing
an Israeli Channel 13 report citing an “unsourced assessment” that Hezbollah
“apparently planned to use the ammonium nitrate stockpile that caused a massive
blast at Beirut’s port this week against Israel in a ‘Third Lebanon War’.”

A review of the supposedly
open-and-shut cases in both Thailand and Cyprus, however, reveals serious questions
about the evidence used to accuse Hezbollah suspects and the role of the Mossad
in those cases. It also shows that an alleged Hezbollah plot involving ammonium
nitrate in New York City was contrived by the FBI and Justice Department without
any real evidence.

Thailand: Muddling the Issue, Bending the Law

The arrest of Hussein Atris,
a dual Swedish-Lebanese citizen, in Bangkok on January 13, 2012 occurred after
the Mossad received a report that a terrorist attack was due to occur in the
middle of that month. The Israeli intelligence agency had given the Thai police
a list of 14 or 15 suspects – all Iranian or Lebanese – to be placed under surveillance,
including Atris.

But it was Atris who received
the bulk of attention. After his arrest, he told police about goods he had stored
in a commercial building in Bangkok. Shortly after his arrest, he was taken
out of his cell to a house where he was interrogated by three Mossad agents,
as was typical of Mossad operations in countries where Israel cultivated close
relations with law enforcement. On January 17, Thai police visited the commercial
building near Bangkok and reportedly found 4.8 tons of urea fertilizer and 40
liters (100 pounds) of ammonium nitrate.

Atris was immediately charged
by the police with “possession of prohibited substances.” But in fact, the ammonium
nitrate that Atris had stored in the building was not illegal; it was merely
a component of frozen gel packs for sore muscles commonly bought and sold wholesale
and retail all over the world.

The boxes of gel packs were
stored along with electric fans, slippers and copy paper on the second floor
of the building. And as Atris explained to his interrogators and to
a reporter from the Swedish daily Aftonbladet
who interviewed him in jail,
he had been purchasing various goods in Asia and exporting them to other countries
like Liberia. He had already arranged for a freighter to ship the goods he had
stored there, as the chief of Bangkok metropolitan police confirmed
in an interview
with the New York Times.

The Mossad interrogators refused
to accept the explanation by Atris and accused
him of lying
about his business. Further clouding the picture, police found
two tons of urea fertilizer in
bags labeled as cat litter
on the same floor as the cold packs. But Atris
told an interviewer he
had never dealt with fertilizer in his business, and that he believed “it must
have been placed in our storage facility by someone, probably Mossad.”

Mossad and its Thai allies
were committed to the idea that Atris was a Hezbollah operative from the beginning,
even though they apparently had no actual hard evidence to back it up. The claim
of Hezbollah membership was nevertheless sold successfully to cooperative local
and national news media. A Reuters
story headlined
“Thailand: Hezbollah man arrested in terror scare.” When
he was brought to trial in 2013, Atris firmly denied
any links to Hezbollah
, and the court ultimately found that there was no
evidence
to support the contention by the police and Mossad that he was
in any way involved with the Lebanese movement.

International press coverage
of the case blurred details in a way that incorrectly suggested terrorist intent.
When Atris’s case went to trial in July 2013, Agence-France Presse falsely reported
that he and “unidentified accomplices” had “packed more than six tons of ammonium
nitrate into bags,” thus confusing the already commercially-packaged cold packs
with the urea fertilizer, which was not
an illegal substance
under Thai law and which he specifically denied owning.
Time magazine distorted the case more seriously by referring
to the bags of urea fertilizer as “chemicals being assembled into explosives…in
bags labeled as kitty litter.”

In the end, Atris was
convicted of “illegal possession”
of ammonium nitrate, which was a banned
substance under Thai law. However, the country had not intended for the provision
to apply to frozen gel packs for pain relief, which are commonly traded in bulk
internationally.

Despite the absence of any
evidence that Atris was either a Hezbollah agent or a terrorist, the US State
Department bowed to its Israeli allies and
declared him
to be “a member of Hezbollah’s overseas terrorist unit.”

Cyprus: The mysterious appearance of ammonium nitrate

In 2015, the Cypriot government’s
prosecuted Canadian-Lebanese Hussein Bassam Abdallah for allegedly being part
of a Hezbollah ammonium nitrate terrorist plot after police found
420 boxes of the fertilizer
in the house where he was staying. Yet virtually
no details about the case were ever released because the entire legal process
took place behind closed doors. What’s more, Abdallah’s defense was never made
public.

Furthermore, information from
the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, which Israelis have often
used to disseminate propaganda
into the Arab Middle East, raises serious
questions about the origin of the ammonium nitrate found in the house where
Abdallah was staying. The newspaper
published a story
citing a “private source” who said that Mossad agents
had been tracking Abdallah, following his every movement and intercepting all
his phone calls from Cyprus. The Mossad surveillance continued, according to
the story, “until he obtained the materials and fertilizer, after which Cypriot
authorities were informed [and] raided his place of residence and arrested him
and seized two tons of [ammonium nitrate].…”

By reporting an apparent Mossad
account that the ammonium nitrate was not at the house until just before Mossad
tipped off the police, the Al-Jarida account obviously suggested that the timing
of its appearance was not merely coincidental.

This was not the first time
that Mossad-related evidence against one of its targets turned out to be highly
suspect. Two Iranian men who were visiting Mombasa, Kenya in 2012 were charged
with having buried 15 kg of the explosive RDX on a golf course. However, they
had been interrogated – and one of them allegedly drugged – by three Mossad
agents. Though Kenyan police had supposedly been carrying out constant surveillance
on them for the entire length of their stay, no direct evidence of the Iranians
ever possessing RDX came to light. That anomaly resulted in the case against
the Iranians being thrown
out by Kenya’s Court of Appeal
, and suggested that Mossad itself had planted
the explosive on the golf course.

In Abdallah’s case, the evidence
also indicated the use of a classical prosecution tactic was employed to force
him to admit to a Hezbollah ammonium nitrate terrorism plot: forcing a plea
bargain on him by the threat of a much longer sentence if he refused to plead
guilty.

After the first week of interrogation,
a Cypriot security official told a journalist that Abdallah denied
all charges
against him and was not “cooperating” – meaning he was not admitting
what both Israel and Cyprus wanted him to. Weeks later, however, following a
trial closed to the public, Abdallah
admitted to all eight charges
against him. The semi-official Cyprus News
Agency
reported
he had given the police a statement that the ammonium nitrate was
to have been used for terrorist attacks against Jewish or Israeli interests
in Cyprus. In return he was given a six-year sentence instead of the 14 years
he would have received without the deal.

Abdallah’s defense lawyer,
Savvas A. Angelides
, pressed his client to accept the plea bargain, advancing
the political interests of Cyprus as a close ally of Israel. For his part, Angelides
had his eyes on a high-level national security posting in his country’s government.
Sure enough, in early 2018, the lawyer was appointed
Defense Minister of Cyprus
.

The idea that Hezbollah obtained
ammonium nitrate for use in New York City – another Israeli contention – was
not supported by any evidence whatsoever. In this case, a Lebanese-American
named Ali Kourani stood accused of hatching a Hezbollah terror plot. But the
closest the US Justice Department could come to linking to ammonium nitrate
was a statement in its
criminal complaint
against him.

It claimed that in May 2009,
Kourani “entered China at an airport in Guangzhou, the location of Guangzhou
Company-1, i.e., the manufacturer of the ammonium nitrate-based First Aid ice
packs sized in connection with thwarted IJO attacks in Thailand and Cyprus.”
The suggestion that a trip to Quangzhou somehow counted as evidence of an effort
to procure ammonium nitrate for Hezbollah terrorism was patently absurd.

London and Germany: Mossad’s phantom Hezbollah explosives

The next apparent Israeli intel
dump arrived in the form of a
June 2019 story
in the Telegraph UK, a right-wing Murdoch-owned daily which
loyally follows Israeli propaganda lines. According to the report, in 2015,
the UK MI5 intelligence service and London’s Metropolitan Police were tipped
off by the Mossad about thousands of ice packs containing three tons of ammonium
nitrate in warehouses in Northwest London. The Telegraph revealed that London
police had arrested one man “on suspicion of plotting terrorism” but had eventually
released him without charges. That detail was the giveaway that the British
had come to realize that they had no evidence linking cold packs or their owner
to any Hezbollah terrorist plot — contrary to the Israel narrative.

The Telegraph’s suggestion
that MI5 decided not to prosecute to disrupt the threat isn’t credible, because
no one was ever prosecuted. And its implication that the British government
kept quiet about the episode because it was protecting the Iran nuclear deal
did not apply once Trump tore up the agreement in 2018. The British government,
which banned
Hezbollah in February 2020,
has never suggested that the Lebanese militia
had been plotting to use ammonium nitrate from warehouses in the UK to carry
out terrorist attacks.

According to a
report this May by Israel’s Channel 12
, days before Germany announced its
banning of Hezbollah from the country, Mossad had gathered information on alleged
Hezbollah terrorism-related activities in Germany. The supposed plotting consisted
of the identification of warehouses in southern Germany where the Mossad said
Hezbollah was storing ‘hundreds of kilograms” of ammonium nitrate.

After the information was presented
to German intelligence and law enforcement agencies, according to the report,
the German Interior Ministry announced in April 2020 that it was banning Hezbollah.
It simultaneously
raided four mosque associations
accused of being close to Hezbollah. But
German law enforcement never announced any action regarding warehouses supposedly
holding ammonium nitrate, indicating that the German government found nothing
that backed up the claims by Mossad.

Hoping to seize the Beirut
explosion as a historic propaganda opportunity, the Israelis clearly believe
they can fashion a new and more powerful narrative by knitting together false
claims related to these episodes. Their objective is to achieve their longtime
objective of forcing Hezbollah out of the Lebanese government by implicating
it in the calamitous blast. So far, Western corporate media appears inclined
to accept the baseless Israeli claims on face value. The day after the blast
in Beirut, the Washington Post reported
that Hezbollah “has long shown an interest in acquiring [ammonium nitrate] for
use in a variety of terrorist plots.”

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in
US national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism
for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book is
Manufactured
Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare
. He can be contacted
at [email protected].

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