Portuguese ‘connection’ to Beirut mega-blast probed by secret services

The bizarre Portuguese connection to the massive blast that destroyed a large part of crisis-torn Beirut last week is being probed by secret services.

The 2,700 metric tons of ammonium nitrate which exploded with truly devastating consequences was ordered by national explosives company Moura Silva & Filhos for a factory it runs in Mozambique.

The cargo was on its way from Georgia to Mozambique in 2013 when the boat transporting it was ‘impounded’ in Beirut.

The explosives were removed from the ship in 2014 and stored in Warehouse 12, which is where they remained despite ports officials being only too aware how potentially dangerous the situation was.

With a number of those officials now under ‘investigation’ for incompetence in the way they failed to deal with the ammonium nitrate, Portuguese secret services are said to be investigating ‘the back story’.

What was the plan for this enormous quantity of such a highly explosive chemical – on the face of it an agricultural fertilizer that can be easily transformed for bomb-making?

Stress reports today, Moura Silva & Filhos’ “purchases for Mozambique did not need to be registered in Portugal”.

SIED – the branch of secret services set up to ‘safeguard national independence, national interests and external security of the Portuguese State’ – “is going to investigate if there are risks for Portuguese interests in Africa given that explosives produced by the factory to which the ammonium nitrate was headed could have been diverted by terrorists of Daesh and Al-Quaeda who had been attacking in the north of Mozambique” at the time.

Says tabloid Correio da Manhã today, up till yesterday word from Mozambique had been that there was ‘no knowledge’ of this shipment of ammonium nitrate on its way to the factory owned by Moura Silva & Filhos.

The factory itself has apparently said that it had paid nothing for it in the form of transportation.

Says CM, the whole story “is raising doubts and fears” both here and abroad.

Jornal Económico meantime has quoted a source for the factory (FEM or Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique) stressing that it always complied “scrupulously with all legal requirements and best international practices”.

The source also stressed that “it never pays any cargo before it is delivered”, making it clear, says JE, that it “has no responsibility for it”.

FEM has been on the market since 1955 and “has never had any problems with handling the products that matter” said the source.

Moura Silva & Filhos began as a small family fireworks manufacturer. It is based in Povo de Lanhoso (Braga district) and now has five explosives storage facilities in various parts of the north.

The company is the largest of four national manufacturers of explosives, and is licensed for this effect with the PSP police, says CM.

It started producing and sending explosives to Mozambique in 1999.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com