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President Donald Trump added weight to unfounded and dangerous conspiracy theories about Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut when he claimed, without evidence, that the incident was “a terrible attack” caused by “a bomb of some kind.”
Trump’s remarks at a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday evening came just hours after conspiracy theorists used social media to boosted the unfounded claim that the devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital was caused by a nuclear bomb — a theory that VICE News has thoroughly debunked.
Trump began the press briefing by offering sympathy and assistance to the people of Lebanon, who are dealing with the fallout from the explosion that has left at least 100 people dead, 4,000 injured and 250,0000 homeless. The U.S. president then called the incident “a terrible attack,” without providing further details.
When a reporter questioned him further on this assertion, Trump said:
“I met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was [an attack]," the president said. "This was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event. This was a – seems to be, according to them, they would know better than I would – but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind, yes.”
But it seems like no one inside the administration is willing to confirm Trump’s claims.
The Pentagon declined to comment on Trump’s assertion, referring reporters to the White House for a response. The White House in turn referred VICE News to the National Security Council, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several defense officials, speaking to CNN, said there was no indication that this was anything other than an accident.
One official pointed out that if the “generals” Trump spoke about had concluded this was an attack, then it would have triggered automatic increases in force protection for U.S. troops and assets in the region — none of which has happened.
“It's wildly irresponsible for a president to stand at the [White House] podium and spitball about an international incident like this as hundreds of casualties are still missing or being treated,” Brett McGurk, a former national security official in the Trump administration who also served in the Obama and Bush administrations, tweeted.
State Department officials also revealed to CNN that Lebanese officials had been in touch with them regarding Trump’s use of the word “attack.”
There are still many unknowns about the exact cause of the explosion, but the latest information suggests that it happened because 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in a warehouse in the Port of Beirut for over six years, ignited and caused a devastating blast.
But within minutes of videos of the explosion going viral on social media on Tuesday, people began speculating, without real evidence, that the blast was caused by a nuclear bomb — a conspiracy theory that will be only boosted by Trump’s statements.
Cover: Port workers run to the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)