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Portuguese man held in Spain over Beirut blast

April 21, 2022

Jorge Moreira has been charged with terrorism and murder in Lebanon over his role in bringing ammonium nitrate explosives into the country. The August 2020 blast killed more than 200 people and devastated entire suburbs.

The aftermath of the explosion at the Beirut port in 2020
Buildings as far as 10 kilometers (6 miles) away were damaged by the blastImage: Hussein Malla/AP/picture alliance

Spanish authorities said on Thursday that Portuguese national Jorge Moreira had been released on bail and was awaiting an extradition trial to Lebanon.

Moreira, 43, was arrested at Madrid-Barajas Airport the day before as Spanish authorities acted on an Interpol red notice. He is wanted in Lebanon for his suspected connection to the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people.

Investigators believe that the suspect ordered the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored haphazardly in a warehouse since 2014 before catching fire and creating one of the largest nonnuclear explosions in history.

What caused the Beirut blast?

It is thought that the ammonium nitrate entered the country in 2013 onboard the Rhosus, a Moldovan-flagged ship sailing from Georgia to Mozambique. At the time, Moreira was an employee of Mozambican firm Fabrica de Explosivos de Mocambique (FEM), a position he left in 2016. 

The Rhosus was seized by Lebanese authorities after a company filed a lawsuit against its owner over a debt dispute. In 2014, port authorities in Beirut unloaded the shipment and stored it in a derelict warehouse with cracked walls.

Two other Interpol red notices have also been issued for the Russian captain and owner of the ship. They have not yet been apprehended.

Moreira has been charged with "terrorism" and "causing death through the use of explosives" in the incident that devastated entire neighborhoods in Beirut.

In 2021, a Portuguese judge had rejected an extradition request from Lebanon, citing incorrect paperwork. 

Moreira had flown to Chile earlier this week, but authorities reacting to the Interpol notice put him immediately back on a flight to Spain. Spanish authorities have not clarified why he was allowed to board a plane to Chile in the first place.

His extradition procedure is expected to last several months. He was released from jail after posting bail, but is not allowed to leave Spain.

Beirut blast a year on

es/nm (AFP, Reuters)