BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Two Israeli airforce planes that made a low-level pass over Budapest this week had nothing to do with the killing of a Syrian man in the Hungarian capital on the same day, Hungarian officials said on Friday.
Denying speculation that the planes were part of an undercover mission, Hungarian government spokesman Domokos Szollar said the overflight was “routine” training that was cleared in advance with Hungary by the Israelis.
Hungarian police said they saw no link between the planes and the shooting of the Syrian man, and their investigation of his murder was confined to Hungary.
“The Israeli airforce conducted a training operation at Ferihegy airport the day before yesterday, but it was not spying or reconnaissance, merely a routine pilot maneuver, the so called touch-and-go,” Szollar said.
However, a breakdown in internal communications meant the Hungarian defense ministry was not informed, and when the planes were sighted and reported in a Hungarian daily, Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai ordered an investigation.
In the early morning of the day the planes flew over, Syrian-born Bassam Trache, 52, was shot dead in his car at traffic lights on the outskirts of Budapest, and a bag or briefcase was taken by the attacker, Hungarian police said.
Budapest chief of criminal investigations Zsolt Bodnar, said speculation about a link was “in the realm of fiction”.
Hungarian authorities sent no request for information to Interpol about the case, said Richard Leyrer, Hungary’s chief liaison with international police associations.
“The only connection I have seen between the two cases is that they were in the news on the same day,” he told reporters.
In Damascus, Syrian officials had no comment.
Nevertheless, Israeli and Arab media speculated that the fly-over was part of an assassination by Israeli agents.
The Yeshiva World News website asked if it were “Another Dubai?”, recalling last month’s sensational case when alleged Israeli agents disguised as tourists were caught on video in a Dubai hotel where a Palestinian was murdered that same day.
“The report (on the Budapest planes) comes one day after the mysterious assassination of a Syrian national,” Israel’s mass-circulation paper Maariv said.
The murder victim had dual Hungarian-Syrian citizenship, had lived in Hungary for 20 years and likely earned his living from currency exchange, police said. The daily Nepszabadsag said he was killed by several shots at close range.
Two Israeli planes performing the touch-and-go were Gulfstream Vs - a modified 16-seater business jet, Hungarian media said.
“They were not spy planes, of course,” Israeli ambassador Aliza Bin-Noun told the Hungarian news agency MTI.
An Israeli security source said he found it hard to believe Israel might have been involved. “Gunshots in the middle of a public street in Europe isn’t really our style,” he said.
Government spokesman Szollar said Hungary’s foreign ministry got a request from Israel for the operation some two months ago, and forwarded it to the National Transport Authority (NKH).
The NKH gave permission for the operation, he said, but defense ministry officials appear not to have been informed.
Additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Budapest, Khaled Oweis in Damascus and Dan Williams in Jerusalem. Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Jackie Cowhig