SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s opposition criticized a government statement that Hezbollah carried out a bomb attack that killed Israeli tourists, saying on Wednesday the conclusion was unjustified and dangerous.
The July attack in the coastal city of Burgas raised tensions in the Balkan country, where 15 percent of the 7.3 million population are Muslim, and opposition parties said the government acted under Israeli and U.S. pressure.
The charge made by European Union and NATO member Bulgaria on Tuesday may open the way for Brussels to join the United States in branding the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
“It is an unjustifiable act that is very dangerous,” Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Sergei Stanishev said. “The government entered into an international political game in an irresponsible manner, without calculating the consequences.”
The nationalist Attack and ethnic Turkish MRF party joined the Socialist criticism, saying it was too soon for the rightist government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov to blame Hezbollah because the investigation had not yet concluded.
They said the government had failed to provide a thorough analysis of faults in national security and Bulgaria would remain vulnerable.
Israel blamed the attack in Burgas - which killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber - on Iran and Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government and waged a brief war with Israel in 2006.
Iran has denied responsibility and its U.N. envoy accused arch-enemy Israel of plotting and carrying out the bus bombing. Hezbollah, designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in the 1990s, has not responded to the charges.
Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said the investigation had been independent.
The EU’s police organization Europol, which helped the investigation, supported the Bulgarian conclusions. It said early assumptions the bombing was a suicide attack had proven false and investigations showed the device was detonated remotely.
“Nobody has ever exercised any pressure over Bulgaria,” Mladenov told BNT television.
Since the attack, nationalists have charged that Bulgaria could be an easy route into Europe for radical Islamists.
Most of the Muslim population are a centuries-old community from the time of Turkish rule and not recent immigrants. A trial of 13 people on charges of spreading radical Islam has further stoked tensions.
Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Andrew Roche