Lebanon blast evidence trail hints at ties to Hezbollah
The owner of an abandoned ship which transported thousands of tons of explosive ammonium nitrate to the Lebanese capital of Beirut ahead of the deadly August 4 blast there reportedly has financial links to Hezbollah, according to a German media report.
The Rhosus freighter, which brought the chemical to Beirut a few years ago, belonged to an entrepreneur from Cyprus and not, as previously thought, to a Russian businessman, news weekly Spiegel reported on Friday.
Court records show that the Cypriot entrepreneur took out a loan worth 1 million dollars from the Tanzanian FBME bank, which U.S. investigators reportedly accuse of acting as a money launderer for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, Lebanon's Iran-backed paramilitary organisation
Hezbollah, or Party of God, was conceived by Muslim clerics in the 1980s in response to the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon in 1982. The Shia group has a political and military wing.
National support against Israel: Hezbollah emerged in the 1980s as an amalgamation of Shia militias and played a major role in the Lebanese civil war. It used guerrilla warfare to drive Israeli forces out of South Lebanon – Israel withdrew in 2000. Israel and Hezbollah fought another war in 2006. Its defence of Lebanon against Israel won it cross-sectarian support and acceptance in Lebanese society
Backed by Iran: since its creation, Hezbollah has received military, financial and political support from Iran and Syria. Today, Hezbollah's military wing is more powerful than Lebanon's own army and has become a major regional paramilitary force
Political apparatus: Hezbollah turned its focus to politics following the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. It represents a large section of the Lebanese Shia population and is allied with other sectarian groups, including Christians. Their political development has mostly come under Hassan Nasrallah (pictured), who became the group's leader in 1992
Armed wing: unlike other parties in Lebanon's multi-sided 1975-1990 civil war, Hezbollah did not disband its armed wing. Some Lebanese political groups, such as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, want Hezbollah to put down its arms. Hezbollah argues its militant wing is necessary to defend against Israel and other external threats
Terror group? A number of countries and bodies, including the United States, Israel, Canada, the Arab League and, most recently, Germany, consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. However, Australia and many European Union countries differentiate between its legitimate political activities and its militant wing
Hezbollah enters Syria's civil war: Hezbollah has been one of the main backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country's civil war. Its entrance into the war helped save Assad, one of its chief patrons; secured weapons supply routes from Syria and formed a buffer zone around Lebanon against Sunni militant groups it feared would take over Syria. As a result it has won considerable support from Shia communities in Lebanon
Sectarianism: Lebanon has long been at the centre of regional power struggles, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Hezbollah's military and political ascendancy, as well as its intervention in Syria, have also helped stoke Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions in Lebanon and across the region
Renewed conflict with Israel? Iran and Hezbollah have increased their political and military strength through the war in Syria. Israel views this as a threat and has carried out dozens of airstrikes on Iran/Hezbollah targets in Syria. Israel has vowed to not let Iran and Hezbollah create a permanent presence in Syria. There is growing concern of another war between Hezbollah and Israel that could draw in Iran. (Author: Chase Winter)
The Tanzanian bank also stands accused of forcing defaulting debtors to carry out favours for customers, including Hezbollah, Spiegel wrote, citing a U.S. investigator.
The Russian businessman, Igor Grechushkin, previously believed to be the owner of the cargo ship, had reportedly only leased the vessel. At least 182 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured in the massive blast in Beirut's port on 4 August.
The explosion is believed to have been fuelled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port for years without safety precautions. The chemical is thought to have been transported to Lebanon on board the Rhosus.
According to Grechushkin, in November 2013, the country's authorities prevented the vessel's onward journey and confiscated the cargo. Hezbollah has strongly denied any responsibility for the disaster. (dpa)