WITNESS ACCOUNT: ‘We think that (it was a suicide bomber)’


A suicide bomber probably caused an explosion on a bus at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport which killed three people, an Israeli woman who was on the bus said.

“We think that (it was a suicide bomber),” witness Aviva Malka told Israeli Army Radio in answer to a question in a telephone interview from the scene.

“We sat down and within a few seconds we heard a huge boom and we ran away. We managed to escape through a hole on the bus. We saw bodies and many people injured,” she said.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Louise Ireland

Bulgaria blast: Fresh updates from Shmuel Rosner’s Twitter feed


For more on this story visit, ” title=”@rosnersdomain” target=”_blank”>@rosnersdomain


Bus blast in Bulgaria kills 7, injures more than 30 — Israel blames Iran


At least seven Israeli tourists were killed on Wednesday in an explosion on a bus outside a Bulgarian airport that Israel blamed on Tehran, promising a strong response to “Iranian terror.”

The explosion comes on the 18th anniversary of a 1994 bomb attack on the headquarters of Argentina’s main Jewish organization by an Iranian-backed Hezbollah suicide bomber, which killed 85 people.

The windows of the double-decker bus were blown out and surrounded by scorch marks. Mangled metal hung from its torn-back roof and clouds of dense black smoke billowed above the airport.

The mayor of Burgas, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, said the bus was carrying Israeli tourists, but police could not immediately confirm their nationality. Several other buses at the site were damaged.

“I do not know what it was, but it was a very powerful blast, and I think it was something placed on purpose in the bus, which carried 47 Israeli tourists,” Burgas mayor Dimitar Nikolov told BTV television, adding 33 people were injured.

An Israeli witness told Israeli army radio that the explosion was probably caused by a suicide bomber at the entrance of the bus.

Bulgaria raised security at all airports, bus and railway stations after the explosion, which happened in a parking lot outside the airport. Stunned travelers hugged one another in shock at the carnage and passengers were kept away from the scene with a police cordon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for the Wednesday’s blast and said Israel would respond.

“All the signs lead to Iran. Only in the past few months we have seen Iranian attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other places,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“Eighteen years exactly after the blast at the Jewish community centre in Argentina, murderous Iranian terror continues to hit innocent people. This is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading throughout the entire world. Israel will react powerfully against Iranian terror,” he said.

The incident was not reported by Iranian media and there was no immediate Iranian reaction to the Israeli accusation.

VULNERABLE

Israeli officials had previously said that Bulgaria, a popular holiday destination for Israeli tourists, was vulnerable to attack by Islamist militants who could infiltrate via nearby Turkey.

Burgas is Bulgaria’s fourth largest city and lies on the Black Sea coast some 40 miles from the border with Turkey. It is at the center of a string of seaside resorts which are popular for their sunshine and low cost compared with many parts of the Mediterranean.

With a population of about 200,000, it is also an important industrial centre and has Bulgaria’s sole oil refinery.

Burgas has become an increasingly popular destination for Israelis in the past couple of years due to Israel’s worsening relationship with Turkey, according to Israeli travel agent Adi Amram, who is based in Ramat Gan, in Israel. Since the deadly flotilla incident of 2010 – during which nine passengers were killed in a raid by Israeli commandos when they boarded the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza – Israelis have increasingly been vacationing in Burgas instead of Turkey, said Amram, who works for Sphera Tours, a travel agency based in Ramat Gan and Los Angeles.

“It’s actually very political, because Israelis didn’t want to go to Turkey after what happened with the Marmara, so they’re trying to find some other location, some other resort country.” Until today’s tragedy, he said, “Burgas actually became what was Turkey for Israelis about two years ago,” with its nice hotels, water sports, pubs, shopping and cafes, Amram said.

Israeli diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers who Israel said struck on behalf of Iran.

Though Tehran has denied involvement, some analysts believe it is trying to avenge the assassinations of several scientists from its controversial nuclear program, which the Iranians have blamed on Israel and its Western allies.

Israel has threatened air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomatic efforts fail to stop Tehran getting nuclear weapons, which it denies it is seeking.

Washington was still trying to make sure of the facts, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

“I don’t have information yet on anything specific to the incident itself, if in fact it was terrorism and who was responsible for it,” Carney said.

Burgas airport was closed after the incident and flights were redirected to the airport of Varna, police said. Dozens of tourists were stranded at the airport as it was checked for other explosive devices, Focus news agency reported.

El Al cancelled its flight from Tel Aviv to Sofia that was due to leave at 1600 GMT and consequently the turnaround flight, a spokeswoman told Reuters. Nothing has been decided about Thursday’s flights.

Israeli rescue services were planning to send a plane to Burgas with medical staff to treat the injured and take bodies home, the Israeli ambulance service Magen David Adom said.

Additional reporting by Ryan Torok in Los Angeles, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Sam Cage; Editing by Alison Williams

Obama condemns deadly bus attack on Israelis in Bulgaria


President Barack Obama strongly condemned an attack on Wednesday that killed at least four Israeli tourists in an explosion on a bus outside a Bulgarian airport.

“The United States will stand with our allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” Obama said in a statement, calling the attack “completely outrageous.”

Reporting By Alister Bull; Editing by Sandra Maler

Iran’s nuclear ambitions


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for attacks on Israeli embassy staff in Georgia and India on Monday Feb. 13 that wounded at least two people. “Iran is behind these attacks. It is the biggest exporter of terror in the world,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland seemed much on the same wavelength two days later.

The Iranian regime has not to blame others for finger pointing it. In fact, since some time the most senior authorities in Iran have been threatening to retaliate against presumed Israeli covert operations targeting nuclear scientists in Iran.

Following the assassination in Iran on Jan. 11 of Mostapha Ahmadi Roshan, vice-president of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the country’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei blamed the “international terror network led by the CIA and the Mossad”, threatening that “we would never refrain from punishing the culprits and those behind them.” 

Iran’s Intelligence Minister warned that “the British, the Americans and the Mossad would taste the firm and heavy response of the Islamic Republic.”

General Massoud Jazaeri, second in command of the Armed forces of the regime stressed that “capabilities stemming from the Islamic Revolution’s strategic depth – a term normally used for proxies in the Near East, notably the Hizballah – were being considered.”

Subsequently a Lebanese man arrested in Thailand and suspected of having relations with the Hizballah led the Thai police to a hideout containing bomb making facilities. An Iranian injured in an explosion in Bangkok on February 14 was detained by the police for further inquiries. 

So Iran’s being behind the Monday embassy explosions is only logical conclusion. Retaliating against the assassination of nuclear scientists is however a mere pretext, rhetoric fit for internal use: the true issue is Iran’s covert nuclear. So regardless of who is really behind the assassination attempts, the clerics’ rhetoric is a political one first and foremost.

Two issues are at stakes: the nuclear impasse, and the internal dissent.

Engulfed in a deep internal crisis, the clerics see no way out except what they call a “life insurance” in the form of military nuclear might. At the same time, they have to keep opposition under control.

On the first issue, terrorist acts against Israeli embassies and other similar attempts are meant to send a “strong” message to the West. Not being able to step back from a strategic agenda for survival, the regime resorts to terrorism as “a legitimate foreign policy tool,” in terms used by Victoria Nuland.

The obvious message is: “Yes we can.” In other words, “do not underestimate our capability of nuisance, especially in an election year in the United States.” Iran’s ruling clique believes that the West might back off with a much feared wave of destabilizing terrorist acts in sight.

But the second issue, internal opposition, is also a source of concern. That is why the clerics try to make the most out of the assassinated scientists’ affair. In an interview with the NBC, Ali Larijani, advisor to the supreme leader, alleged that the main opposition, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) cooperated with the Mossad to assassinate the Iranian scientists. A shear lie meant only to send another hurried message to the US State Department, which under recommendations by the Appeal’s Court of DC is studying the removal of the MEK from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), an act considered a redline by the regime in power as it would send an encouraging message to a hostile population waiting for their turn at the regime.

Iran’s leaders resort to terror because the tool has proven its effectiveness in the past. An explosion perpetrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 US marines and 58 French paratroopers prompted the withdrawal of the International Peace Force from the country. A wave of bloody street bombings in Paris in 1986 and French nationals taken hostage by proxies in Lebanon made the French government muzzle Iranian dissidents and leave the Lebanese territory open to Iranian influence.

As of the FTO list, Hillary Clinton has been sitting on the decision to de-list the Iranian opposition since about two years, in spite of Justice’s recommendation, for the obviously political reason of not wanting to antagonize Iran.

So it is a logical conclusion for the clerics that terror pays. The best way to correct their impression is to stick to a principled approach:

Regardless of reasons, terrorist acts should be punished with extreme firmness. A few months ago the highest officials in the US affirmed that an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US had been defused, but no action was taken. Leaving terrorist acts unpunished for political considerations is a fatal negligence of principles.

On the Iranian opposition, whatever the nature of their struggle against the regime, the court has cleared them of terrorism. Keeping them on the FTO list is yet another negligence of principles. That is playing into the clerics hands.

Principles apart, from a political point of view there is no sense in kowtowing to a regime on the brink of internal chaos and unable to hold falling pieces together. It is losing a strategic ally in the region, the Syrian regime, and the increasing pressure of international sanctions is beyond the endurance limit of a population opposed to the regime it considers responsible for all the misery. Sources from inside Iranian ruling circles point to a state of extreme stress around the supreme leader, even from close aides, in dealing with crushing effects of recent sanctions adopted against the country because of its unlawful behavior in dealing with the nuclear issue.

So harsh words and saber rattling should deceive nobody.

Iranian blast cause unknown


The cause of an explosion that rocked an Iranian city that houses a key nuclear facility remains unclear.

Monday’s explosion in Isfahan reportedly caused windows to shake throughout the city.

The local government told news agencies that the explosion was part of a military drill. Some news agencies said the explosion came from a gas depot.

The Isfahan uranium conversion plant is supervised and frequently visited by the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Earlier this month, an explosion at an Iranian ammunition depot killed Gen. Hasan Moghaddam and 16 other Revolutionary Guard members. Israel’s Mossad intelligency agency was suspected in that blast.

[UPDATE] Sound of blast reported in Iran’s Isfahan City, home to key nuclear facility


The sound of an apparent explosion was heard from Iran’s Isfahan city on Monday afternoon, the head of the judiciary in the province said, but the province’s deputy governor denied that there had been a big blast.

“In the afternoon, there was a noise like an explosion, but we don’t have any information from security forces on the source of the noise,” provincial judiciary head Gholamreza Ansari was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

However, Mehr news agency quoted Deputy Governor Mohammad Mehdi Ismaili as saying: “So far no report of a major explosion has been heard from any government body in Isfahan.”

State run Press TV, also citing Ismaili, said the report of an explosion was “completely baseless and fabricated.”

An important Iranian nuclear facility involved in processing uranium is located near Isfahan city, although Iranian media reports of the incident did not refer to it.

International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the U.N. watchdog was aware of the media reports but had no further information.

Iranian media provided contradictory information about the incident, which came less that three weeks after a massive explosion at a military base near Tehran that killed more than a dozen members of the Revolutionary Guard including the head of its missile forces.

The Fars news agency reported a large blast in the province but later removed the report from its website. Fars was not immediately available to comment on the withdrawn report.

The Mehr news agency cited other Iranian news media, which it did not identify, as reporting that a blast had taken place at a petrol station at a town near Isfahan city.

Several residents of the city contacted by Reuters by telephone said they heard nothing.

On November 12, Iran said a massive explosion at a military base 45 km west of Tehran killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including the head of the elite force’s missile program. Iran said that explosion, which could be heard as far away as the capital, was caused by an accident while weapons were being moved.

Monday’s report of the apparent blast near Isfahan was the lead story on evening TV news broadcasts in Israel, although these did not include comment from Israeli officials or provide details beyond those given by Iranian agencies. An Israeli military spokeswoman reached by telephone declined to comment.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization operates several nuclear facilities east of Isfahan, according to the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a leading Washington-based think tank.

They include the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF), which began operating in 2006 and is able to produce uranium hexafluoride gas, the feed material that Iran uses to make refined uranium at its Natanz nuclear enrichment site.

“These things are well protected, some of them underground. Basically they have stocked all the raw material for quite some time. I think most of the material is stored in Isfahan,” said Olli Heinonen, former head of IAEA safeguards inspections worldwide and now a senior fellow at Harvard University.

Israel and the West are concerned about Iranian processing of uranium, because they believe that it could be used to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Writing by Peter Graff and Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Boyle

Iran: Explosion occurred during research on weapons that could strike Israel


A massive explosion that killed 17 troops including an officer regarded as the architect of Iran’s missile defenses last week took place during research on weapons that could strike Israel, the Islamic Republic’s military chief said on Wednesday.

Iran has insisted the blast at a military base on Saturday, which rattled window and nerves in parts of the capital Tehran 45 km (28 miles) away, was an accident and denied speculation of possible sabotage by Israel or the United States.

“This recent incident and blast has no link to Israel or America but the outcome of the research, in which the incident happened as a consequence, could be a strong smack to the mouth of Israel and its occupying regime,” armed forces chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.

Asked on Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday about the scope of damage from the blast, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he did not know, but added: “May there be more like it.” There was no indication that the explosion was a deliberate attack.

Iranian officials had previously said the accident happened while munitions were being moved at the base, without linking it directly to weapons research.

Brigadier General Hassan Moqaddam, hailed as the founder of Iran’s missile program, was the most senior casualty.

Iran already has missiles, the Shahab-3, first tested in 1998, that it says could reach Israel, which has threatened to strike Iran’s nuclear sites if diplomacy and pressure fail to stop it getting the bomb.

Iran denies its nuclear work is aimed at developing atomic weapons but doubts about that were reinforced by a report published by the United Nations nuclear agency last week, a few days before the explosion.

The U.N. report further strained Iran’s relations with the West and the Iranian parliament is debating ending cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a prospect that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi sought to play down.

“Our response to this report is the one of patience and vigilance,” Salehi told state broadcaster IRIB on the sidelines of a cabinet meeting.

“Westerners like to push us toward a hasty reaction and they like to hear that Iran says it would withdraw from the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).”

Salehi said Iran would soon send a detailed and analytical rebuttal of the concerns raised in the report, which he called “unstudied and unjust.”

He also said Iran remained open to resuming the talks with world powers concerned about its nuclear program that stalled in January, and that he had presented a counter-proposal to Russia about how those talks might be structured.

“We presented another proposal and informed the Russian officials of that proposal and all our efforts are to find a way out of the faked nuclear issue,” he said.

Russia has sought to revive he talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, plus Germany (P5+1) that stalled in January.

Reporting by Ramin Mostafavi; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israel said to be behind blast that killed Iranian missile expert


Israel was behind an explosion in an Iranian ammunition depot that killed a missile expert, Western intelligence officials are saying.

At least 16 other Revolutionary Guard members were killed in Saturday’s explosion, which Iranian officials say was an accident. But no one is saying what Gen. Hasan Moghaddam, the father of Iran’s surface-to-surface missile systems and long-range missiles, was doing at the site at the time of the explosion.

Time Magazine reported Sunday that Western intelligence sources believe that Israel’s Mossad was behind the blast.

“Don’t believe the Iranians that it was an accident,” an unnamed Western official was quoted as telling Time.

The official reportedly added that other sabotage is being planned to hamper Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. “There are more bullets in the magazine,” the official told Time.

Israeli officials said they don’t know what caused the blast.