BURGAS, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Wearing checked Bermuda shorts and blue t-shirt and carrying a small rucksack, the bomber blended in seamlessly with the relaxed crowds travelling to Bulgaria’s sandy Black Sea coast.
The man in his mid-30s, long dark curly hair under dark blue cap, roamed for an hour under the gaze of surveillance cameras through airport buildings and around the car park. Surrounded by Israeli tourists, among tens of thousands who visit Bulgaria every year, it seemed to be just a matter of choosing his target.
He settled eventually on a light colored double-decker bus.
As he moved along with tourists filing through the bus, he triggered the bomb in the rucksack, unleashing an explosion that killed five Israelis, the Bulgarian bus driver and himself.
The blast blew out windows, ripped back the bus roof and sent a pall of black smoke over the airport.
“All of them were screaming and running. Some were screaming Jewish names. It was such a panic they didn’t have (any) idea where to go or what to do,” said airport official Svetlin Mirchev.
“It was a massive explosion,” Mirchev said, standing in bright sunshine beyond the cordoned-off site of the bombing.
The victims were among some 150,000 Israelis who come to the Bulgarian Black Sea every year, drawn by sandy beaches, historic towns and relatively low costs. With no record of such attacks, Bulgaria, however, may have been seen as a ‘soft’ target by militants seeking Israeli victims.
Israel accused Iran of being behind the attack which it described as part of a spreading global terrorist campaign against Israelis. Iran denied involvement.
The charter flight from Tel Aviv carrying 154 people, almost all Israeli, arrived at Burgas just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday. The passengers passed quickly through passport control and customs to spill out into the arrivals hall where they were met by resort representatives.
There, the group was divided up and led out to different buses parked in a line near the forecourt of the two-storey blue-and-white colored building. At about 5.25 p.m. the blast tore through the double decker.
“What do I remember from the moment of the explosion? Bodies on the ground, severed hands and legs,” said Moshe Museri, who was lightly injured in the blast and was wearing bandages on his hand and leg when he arrived back in Tel Aviv.
Shalom recalled the moment he jumped from the stricken bus.
“We saw all the people running to the front of the bus, and we jumped from the window,” he said.
“Unfortunately there were three bodies lying there when we jumped. And everyone who managed to jump from this bus (was)saved, all the others were all dead or wounded.”
Bulgarian authorities are trying to establish the bomber’s identity using DNA from a recovered finger and have shared the data with other security services.
Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Antoaneta Roussinova in Sofia and Rami Amichai in Tel Aviv; Writing by Sam Cage