SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria accused the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah on Tuesday of carrying out a bomb attack on a bus in the Black Sea city of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists last July.
The conclusions of the Bulgarian investigation, citing a clear connection to an attack on European Union soil, may open the way for the EU to join the United States in branding the Iranian-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Three people were involved in the attack, two of whom had genuine passports from Australia and Canada, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters after Sofia’s national security council discussed the investigation.
“There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects,” Tsvetanov said.
“What can be established as a well-grounded assumption is that the two persons whose real identity has been determined belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah.”
Israel blamed the attack in Burgas - which killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber - on Iran and Hezbollah, a powerful Shi‘ite Islamist militia that is part of the Lebanese government.
Iran has denied responsibility and accused arch-enemy Israel of plotting and carrying out the blast. Hezbollah, designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in the 1990s, has not publicly responded to charges that it played a role.
The Netherlands considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and said in August that the EU should also do so, which would mean Brussels could act to freeze Hezbollah assets in Europe.
Britain reserves the designation for Hezbollah’s armed wing but other EU member states, which have blacklisted the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, have resisted U.S. and Israeli pressure to do the same to Hezbollah.
Bulgaria, a member of the EU and NATO, has repeatedly said the bombing was plotted elsewhere and carried out by foreigners. Even so, that attack stoked tension in a country where Muslims make up some 15 percent of the 7.3 million population.
All three people involved in the attack had fake U.S. driving licenses that were printed in Lebanon, Tsvetanov said. The two suspects with Canadian and Australian passports had been living in Lebanon, one since 2006 and the other since 2010.
No one has been arrested in connection with the attack and Tsvetanov said he hoped Australia, Canada and Lebanon would cooperate with the continuing investigation.
Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Writing by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Heinrich