Bulgaria says suicide bomber blew up airport bus

BURGAS, Bulgaria Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:51pm EDT

1 of 20. Relatives mourn over the coffin of Itzik Colangi, who was killed in an attack in Bulgaria, during a ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv July 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

BURGAS, Bulgaria (Reuters) - A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the interior minister said on Thursday, and Israel said Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants were to blame.

Iran denied it was behind Wednesday's attack at Burgas airport, a popular gateway for tourists visiting the Black Sea coast.

Video surveillance footage showed the bomber was similar in appearance to tourists arriving at the airport, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said.

The bomber had been circling around a group of buses, which were about to take Israeli tourists to a resort near Burgas, for about an hour before the explosion, the footage showed.

"We have established there was a person who was a suicide bomber in this attack. This person had a fake driving license from the United States, from the state of Michigan," Tsvetanov told reporters at the airport.

"He looked like anyone else - a normal person with Bermuda shorts and a backpack," he said.

The bomber was said to be 36 years old and had been in the country for between four and seven days before the attack.

Special forces had managed to obtain DNA samples from the fingers of the bomber and were now checking databases in an attempt to identify him, Tsvetanov said.

The foreign ministry said seven people were killed in the attack, including the Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber. The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed that five Israelis were killed.

The tourists had arrived in Bulgaria on a charter flight from Israel and were on the bus in the airport car park when the blast tore through the vehicle. Body parts were strewn across the ground, mangled metal hung from the double-decker bus's ripped roof and black smoke billowed over the airport.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday condemned the attack and said in a statement "that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed."

AIRPORT CLOSED

On Thursday, the airport in Burgas - a city of 200,000 people at the centre of a string of seaside resorts - remained closed and police prevented people from approaching.

Beyond the cordons, about 100 holidaymakers waited for their flights but had been told they would be there until midnight. Officials were setting up portable toilets and tents for stranded travelers and Bulgaria's parliament opened with a one minute silence in memory of the bombing victims.

"It felt like an earthquake and then I saw flying pieces of meat," said Georgi Stoev, an airport official. "It was horrible, just like in a horror movie."

"Yesterday's attack in Bulgaria was perpetrated by Hezbollah, Iran's leading terrorist proxy," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "We will continue to fight against Iranian terror. It will not defeat us. We will act against it with great force."

Israel however indicated it would not hasten into any open conflict with Iran or Hezbollah.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would "do everything possible in order to find those responsible, and those who dispatched them, and punish them" - language that appeared to suggest covert action against individuals.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev linked the arrest of a foreigner in Cyprus this month on suspicion of plotting an attack on Israeli tourists there with the Bulgaria bombing.

"The suspect who was arrested in Cyprus, in his interrogation, revealed an operational plan that is almost identical to what happened in Bulgaria. He is from Hezbollah ... this is a further indication of Hezbollah and Iran's direct responsibility," he told Reuters.

"BASELESS ACCUSATIONS"

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman dismissed Israel's "baseless accusations" that Tehran was involved in the bombing.

The blast occurred on the 18th anniversary of a bomb attack on Argentina's main Jewish organization that killed 85 people. Argentina blamed Iran, which denied responsibility.

Medical officials said two badly injured Israeli tourists were taken to hospitals in Bulgaria's capital Sofia. One woman was in intensive care with head and chest injuries and a man was in a critical state with burns covering 55 percent of his body.

About 70 Israeli tourists, including those lightly injured by the blast, left Burgas on a Bulgarian government airplane to Israel, the interior ministry said.

The European Commission and NATO condemned the attack, joining criticism from the United States, Britain, France and Germany, and the mayor of Burgas announced a day of mourning.

Israeli officials had previously said that Bulgaria, a popular destination for Israeli tourists, was vulnerable to attack by Islamist militants, who could infiltrate via Turkey.

Israeli diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers who Israel said struck on behalf of Iran.

Some analysts believe Iran is trying to avenge the assassinations of several scientists from its nuclear program, which Israel and Western powers fear is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.

Iran insists its uranium enrichment work is strictly for peaceful ends. Both Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.

(Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Madeline Chambers in Berlin and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

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Comments (5)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to turn the Israeli intelligence failure over Bulgaria into an excuse to strike Iran, says Haaretz.com, the world’s leading English-language Website for real-time news and analysis of Israel and the Middle East.
The Jewish news site says Netanyahu is trying to turn the Israeli intelligence failure to prevent the deadly attack into an accomplishment — two hours after the fact he was saying ‘all signs lead to Iran.’

Jul 19, 2012 1:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
primary332 wrote:
@Rudy “The intelligence failure over Bulgaria.” Is that all you see here? You are somehow blaming Israel for this also? Your bias clearly shows through. Israel should not have to be able to forsee every single terrorist attack on every citizen of their country anywhere in the entire world.

This successful attack is not an “Israeli intelligence failure,” it is a disgusting attack of unarmed civilians by radical militants. They didn’t care that the kids on that bus have nothing to do with the Israeli goverment, but rather they were Israeli, and that is enough to blow them up. Disgusting, cowardly, these militant groups are reduced to murdering kids on vacation (not that this is a new thing for them), and you blame the Israeli government.

Jul 19, 2012 8:27am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Whittier5 wrote:
WhaddaYaahoo that Netanyahu. Withing minutes based on no evidence, Benny is accusing Iran of killing a bunch tourist including children. His blood-lust to start a War with Iran is such that he misses no Opportunity to “collect stamps” (as in Transactional Analysis).

He has absolutely no evidence against Iran. The 16ish US “intel agencies” have said so recently. Just aa with most Zealots, “Don’t bother me with the facts. I BELIEVE it, therefore, it is True”.

@primary332, you did not read closely @Rudy’s comment. He took that quote from Haaretz.com. So, @primary, “Your bias clearly shows through”.

The problem in the Middle East (and elsewhere) is STILL Whaddayaahoo and his Zealot cohorts. However, IF Israel were to settle Honorably, it would lose it’s $Multi-$Billion Welfare Payment from the US.

All of this over the SAME unseen and unknowable god??

Jul 19, 2012 10:14am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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