A suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed seven people in a bus transporting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, the country’s interior minister said yesterday, 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 surveillance footage showed.
“We have established there was a person who was a suicide bomber in this attack. This person had a fake driving licence 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. Bulgarian security services had received no indications of an imminent attack.
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.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah carried out the bombing. “The immediate executors are Hezbollah people, who of course have constant Iranian sponsorship,” Barak told Israel Radio.
Israel however indicated it would not hasten into any open conflict with Iran or Hezbollah, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “react powerfully”.
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 earlier 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.