In his first comments about the deadly blast that took place in Beirut, Lebanon, earlier this week, US President Donald Trump used the word "attack" to describe the incident, sparking panic among diplomats all over the world. In his unprepared remarks on Tuesday, Trump said that he spoke with many "great generals" who felt that it was a bomb of some kind.”
Trump's comments seemed very confident and clear at the time.
“I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that this was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event. It was a bomb of some kind,” Trump said.
Unfortunately, it appears that his public comments may have been made prematurely, because just hours later, Pentagon officials told CNN that there was no evidence of any attack.
Defense secretary, Mark Esper, said that the Pentagon was still conducting an investigation about the explosion, but that “Most believe that it was an accident as reported.”
There are a wide variety of theories about what may have started the blast, but at this time, most sources are reporting that the initial fire that led to the explosion was started by a reckless welder, and that the chemicals were in the port by accident.
More than 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was being stored at a warehouse near where the fire took place, and it was believed to be unintentionally detonated when the fire reached the explosives. The chemicals were being stored at the facility for over 6 years, after they were confiscated in 2013, according to Lebanon’s General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim.
On Wednesday the president said the question was still unanswered.
“I can tell you whatever happened, it’s terrible. But they don’t really know what it is. Nobody knows yet,” he said.
“How can you say accident? Somebody ... left some terrible explosive-type devices and things around perhaps. Perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was an attack. I don’t think anybody can say right now. I’ve heard it both ways,” he said.
Tom Fletcher, a former British ambassador to Lebanon warned that "Careless messaging from the White House has consequences," and worried that the president's comments could lead to further conflict in the area.
The blast could be heard over 110 miles away, and destruction was caused many miles away from the blast zone. It has been estimated that the explosion was a fifth the size of the blast caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Rescue efforts are still ongoing, with emergency crews rushing to the disaster zone to find and help victims. There are still many people trapped in the rubble among the collapsed buildings, so the number of casualties and injuries are expected to rise. There are also many other side-effects of the explosion that residents of the city will be dealing with for months and possibly even years to come. Up to 300,000 people could now be left homeless, and hospitals are overrun with victims of the explosion. Toxic gasses were also released in the explosion and resulting infrastructure damage, and strange orange clouds filled the air for hours. All of the food in the harbor was poisoned by the gasses, which will likely have a severe impact on the region’s food supply.