Ammonium nitrate is a basic element of certain types of fertilizers, but it is also a highly explosive and flammable substance that different terrorist groups have come to mix with gasoline or kerosene to make bombs.
The American Timothy McVeigh filled the truck bomb that exploded in 1995 in front of a government building in Oklahoma City with two tons of ammonium nitrate, less than a thousandth of the amount that exploded yesterday in Beirut, a terrorist attack that killed 168 people and injured 600.
McVeigh, a former decorated soldier in the Gulf War with links to far-right paramilitary groups, was sentenced to death and executed in June 2001.
Terrorist Anders Breivik, the neo-fascist who caused a bloodbath on the Norwegian island of Utoya, also used the substance extracted from fertilizers to make the bomb he detonated in the Oslo government district in 2011, causing eight deaths, moments before starring in the cold-blooded shooting that killed 69 people.
In Spain, the Basque nationalist group ETA used Europe’s freedom of movement to acquire in countries like Portugal substances for the manufacture of ammonal, a component it used for its explosives, causing hundreds of deaths.
Following the attack in Norway, the European Parliament agreed in 2012 to restrict public access to substances that, when mixed together, can be used to make “homemade bombs” and gave the green light to impose sanctions on European Union (EU) countries that fail to establish a licensing system for the purchase and advertising of chemicals that can be misused.
These substances are mainly hydrogen peroxide, nitromethane, nitric acid or ammonium nitrate, which cannot be made available to the general public in certain quantities without a prior license proving legitimate use (industrial or scientific). It is up to each Member State to determine the precise rules for granting and refusing licences.
International regulations stipulate that ammonium nitrate must be stored dry and tightly sealed, always warning of the danger of deflagration and keeping it away from any fuel because at the slightest uncontrolled movement of a parameter, such as temperature, it can cause an explosion like that in the port of Beirut.