Bulgaria confirms new evidence pointing to Hezbollah in Burgas attack


Bulgaria’s interior minister confirmed that his country has new evidence that Hezbollah was responsible for the deadly 2012 terrorist attack on Israeli tourists on Bulgarian soil.

Tsvetlin Yovchev said during a news briefing Wednesday, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the attack in Burgas, that the additional evidence makes it clear that Hezbollah masterminded the attack, the Sofia News Agency reported.

A Bulgarian representative to the European Union said last month that investigators discovered that a Hezbollah operative was the owner of a printer used to produce fake documents that facilitated the July 18, 2012 bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists. Five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver were killed in the attack.

The identification of the bomber is still not certain, Yovchev said.

“The position of Bulgaria on the terror act in Burgas is absolutely real, there is no change in it and we have leads pointing at Hezbollah,” Yovchev said.

Bulgaria has put increased security measures into place at bus stations, airports and hotels in advance of Thursday’s one-year anniversary of the attack, according to the Sophia News Agency.

Meanwhile, European and Israeli diplomats believe that European Union foreign ministers will decide at a meeting next week that Hezbollah’s military wing should be included on the EU’s terror list.

Cyprus court jails Hezbollah man for plotting to attack Israelis


A Cyprus court sentenced a member of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to four years in jail on Thursday on charges of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

In a case bearing similarities to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria targeting Israelis last year, the Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaccoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.

Yaccoub, 24 when he was arrested, was accused of tracking movements of Israeli tourists at Larnaca airport, and routes of buses transporting them.

He was detained in Cyprus two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. The group denies involvement.

Yaccoub, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin, pleaded not guilty. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.

“There is no doubt these are serious crimes which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the Republic,” the three-bench court said during sentencing.

Yaccoub's jail term will run concurrently with his period in custody since July.

The United States, which, like Israel, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has said the guilty verdict on Yaccoub announced by the Cypriot court on March 21 highlighted the need for the European Union to crack down on the Lebanese group.

The EU, to which Cyprus belongs, has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, saying that doing so might destabilize Lebanon and add to regional tensions.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Hezbollah denies involvement in Burgas attack


Hezbollah denied it was involved in a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed six, including five Israelis.

Two days after the Bulgarian government implicated two men with links to Hezbollah to the terrorist attack last July, deputy Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said Thursday that Israel is making “allegations and incitements and accusations against Hezbollah” because it has not succeeded in defeating it militarily, Reuters reported.

“Israel is leading an international campaign to intimidate people and countries against Hezbollah,” Qassem reportedly told religious students in southern Beirut. “We will not submit to these pressures and we will not change our priorities. Our compass will remain directed towards Israel.”

Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006.

Bulgaria's interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, told reporters on Tuesday that Hezbollah also financed the bomb attack on a tour bus full of Israelis.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said his government would cooperate with Bulgarian investigators, according to Reuters. The people directly behind the attack were part of a Hezbollah cell that included two operatives using passports from Australia and Canada, he said.

Israel has blamed Hezbollah and Iran for the attack, which also killed the Israeli tourists' Bulgarian bus driver. Iran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of staging the attack.

Report: Bulgaria lacks proof of Hezbollah involvement in terrorist attack


Bulgaria says there is no evidence that Hezbollah was behind an attack on Israelis last year.

According to the report Thursday on 24chasa.bg, Bulgarian authorities have identified an Arab with links to al-Qaida as a suspected accomplice in the bombing at the Black Sea resort of Burgas last July.

The report came shortly after Nikolai Mladenov, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, paid a surprise visit to Israel to brief leaders on its probe into the bombing.

Jerusalem blamed the suicide attack, which killed seven Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian, on Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not disclose the details of the meeting with Mladenov.

A Bulgarian finding that Hezbollah was linked to the attack could lead to its classification as a terrorist group in the European Union.

Congress has in recent weeks called on European bodies to join the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in designating Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Bulgarian police identify accomplice in Burgas bombing


Bulgaria’s security services reportedly have discovered the identity of one of the perpetrators of the July bombing in Burgas that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian.

The Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported Thursday that the discovery was the first time Bulgarian authorities had tracked down an individual suspect, as the bomber and another accomplice are known only by their aliases.

The report did not name the newly discovered accomplice. Bulgarian authorities have no suspects in custody in connection with the case.

American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing at the seaside resort to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation. According to a report in The New York Times, Israel’s intelligence apparatus intercepted telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas months ahead of the bombing.

Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States but not in the European Union, could be classified as such also in Europe if it is found to have perpetrated an attack on EU soil.

The bomber was known under the alias of Jacque Felipe Martin and he had an accomplice with the alias of Ralph Willima Rico. Neither of the suspect's true identities has been discovered, according to Novinite. Martin, Rico and the third accomplice, whose true identity has been discovered, all used fake U.S. identification documents from the state of Michigan.

The blast on the bus occurred soon after a charter plane, Air Bulgaria flight 392 from Ben-Gurion Airport, landed at Burgas Airport. The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city.

Families of Burgas victims attend memorial ceremony, visit attack site


The families of the Israelis killed in a terror attack at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, attended a ceremony for the victims.

The memorial was held Tuesday at the Great Synagogue in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. The families of the five victims of the July 18 attack visited the site of the suicide bombing a day earlier.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said after the ceremony that he has set a deadline of Sept. 15 for a public report on the investigation into the attack, according to the Focus News Agency.

“Israel and Bulgaria will not calm down and hold our peace until all people involved in the terror attack in Burgas are punished,” said Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, said at the ceremony. “We will pursue them [the perpetrators] with all the strength we have and we will not give up until we get even with them. We will do it without wondering and without batting an eyelid, just like we have always done.”

Bulgaria’s minister of economy, energy and tourism, Delyan Dobrev, met with the families on Monday at the airport.

“The security measures that were taken for the tourists in Bulgaria will not be just temporary but will remain for good,” he said according to Focus. “In cooperation with the Israeli services, we analyzed the security at key places in Bulgaria and we will apply even more measures to guarantee the enhanced security.”

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the attack on a bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Bulgarian police release photo of bomb attack accomplice


Bulgarian police released a computer-generated image and a fake driver’s license photo of a man believed to be an accomplice in the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas that killed six.

The fake Michigan driver’s license is registered to Jacques Philippe Martin, but investigators have learned that the man from the photo introduced himself by other names, according to the Focus information agency.

The man appears to be wearing a wig in the license photo. It was originally believed that the license belonged to the dead suicide bomber, but it was later determined to belong to an accomplice.

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the July 18 attack on a tour bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Report: Calls between Lebanon and Burgas increased before attack


Israel has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing that killed six people, The New York Times reported.

The volume of calls intensified in the three days before the attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists, the newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior government official, pointing the finger even more directly—in Israel’s eyes—at the terror group Hezbollah.

“We know the sources in Lebanon,” although not the identity of those on the other end in Bulgaria, the official told the Times.

Israel placed the blame for the July 18 attack on both Iran and Hezbollah. The United States and Bulgaria reportedly agree with the assessment, but have not said so officially.

The Bulgarian investigation has “largely stalled,” according to The New York Times. The attacker and his accomplices have not yet been identified. Bulgarian officials are hesitant to declare Hezbollah responsible without hard evidence, according to the newspaper.

An unnamed senior security official in Germany was quoted as saying that the European allies are skeptical that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack, speculating that Iran used “individuals with Hezbollah affiliation.” 

Hezbollah: Uncertain future, but still dangerous


Hezbollah may have hurt Israel with last week’s bus bombing in Bulgaria, but the Lebanese terrorist faction faces an uncertain future as one of its main sponsors—Syria’s Assad regime—faces a serious revolt and weakening support from once Arab allies, according to analysts.

Still, no one is predicting the quick demise of Hezbollah.

As has been the case throughout the Arab popular uprisings of the past 20 months, Israelis have viewed the turmoil gripping Syria with wariness. President Bashar Assad was no ally of Israel’s—the countries technically remain in a state of war—but the Syrian regime has kept its border with Israel mostly quiet for nearly 40 years under Assad and previously his father, Hafez Assad.

“We don’t feel reassured that those who are trying to topple the Assad regime are a great improvement,” said Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. The Assad government, he said, “for its own interests, kept the armistice” with Israel.

Some Israeli policy experts, however, are looking forward to a Syrian regime change because it is one of Hezbollah’s main backers, along with Iran. Syria has acted as a crucial pipeline for Hezbollah to receive money and weapons from Iran and elsewhere.  A new Syrian government might close that route.

“Hezbollah is losing support in the Arab world,” said Shlomo Brom, a former chief of the strategic planning division of the Israel Defense Forces. “It’s on the wrong side of history. Syria was a central source of support.”

Hezbollah, however, remains a serious danger on several levels.

In an address at an IDF ceremony on Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak cautioned that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons may fall into Hezbollah control if they are transferred over the border due to a weakened Assad regime.

“The State of Israel cannot accept a situation whereby advanced weapons systems are transferred from Syria to Lebanon,” Barak said. “There is no doubt that we are facing a global terror campaign, against Israel in particular, with Hezbollah at its center, inspired by Iran.”

Barak did not elaborate on the Israeli military’s plans. In a statement, the IDF said it “is carefully following events in Syria as they unfold, as they may have significant regional repercussions.”

Further, Hezbollah is now reported to have up to 50,000 missiles—more than three times the 13,000 it reportedly held when it began launching rockets at Israel six years ago, leading to the Second Lebanon War. In that nearly monthlong conflict, almost 4,000 missiles landed on Israel, killing 43 civilians and wounding more than 4,000.

Israeli authorities also are worried about the security of the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights as Assad loses control of the country. Last Friday, Syrian rebels took control of several posts on the country’s borders with Iran and Turkey.

In May 2011, masses of Syrians stormed the Israeli border in commemoration of Palestinians losing their homes in Israel’s War of Independence, which they call the Nakba. More than a dozen people died as Israel fired on the protesters.

Now analysts fear that a rebel takeover could lead to a porous border that allows terrorists to infiltrate the country.

“The Golan may become a kind of Sinai, with ideological extremist organizations that are on our border,” Brom said, referring to the current state of Israel’s border with Egypt in the Sinai desert.

Regardless of the possible scenarios, the analysts all dismissed the idea that last the July 18 terrorist attack in Bulgaria was a direct result of the Syrian fighting. Senior Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have blamed Hezbollah for the attack, which they say is the product of a global Iranian campaign of terror aimed at Israeli targets.

Hezbollah and Iran have rejected the allegations.

Middle East professor Eyal Zisser said that “Bulgaria is a story with Iran and Hezbollah that is a long story,” while Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel, called the attack “part of the ongoing hidden war between Iran and Israel and part of Hezbollah’s ongoing effort to attack Israel.”

Shoval noted, though, that the attack in part could be Hezbollah’s way of asserting that it can survive without Syrian support.

“Obviously there is a connection between what happened in Bulgaria and the situation in which Hezbollah finds itself these days,” he said. “Maybe it wanted to prove that it can also act indirectly or directly with Iran, and not only through the intermediary of the Syrians.”

But Shoval said that Israelis should not necessarily rest assured that Assad’s fall means Hezbollah’s decline, even though Hezbollah is a Shiite group while most Syrians are Sunni.

“This is presented as a Sunni-against-Shia struggle, but with regard to terrorism and enmity against Israel, they won’t have any difficulty to cooperate,” he said. “One can’t rule out the possibility that Hezbollah will be supported by a Sunni regime in Syria.”

While most Israelis are worried about what Syria will look like when Assad falls, others are more optimistic.

“In the Middle East there is a struggle between extremist Islam and moderate Islam,” said Alon Liel, who has advocated in the past for an Israel-Syria peace agreement. “In the long run, moderate Islam is not bad for Israel.”

Jewish organizations raising funds to help victims of the attack in Bulgaria


Jewish organizations are reaching out to help the victims of Wednesday’s terror attack by a suicide bomber in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and a bus driver and wounded more than 30 others. To help, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Orthodox Union all are soliciting funds to aid the wounded and the families of those killed.

“It’s very important symbolically for the people of Israel to know and to feel that Jewish organizations around the world are stepping up and thinking of them and participating in this,” said David Siegel, the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The deadly attack took place aboard a bus filled with Israeli tourists in the international airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, a popular tourist destination for Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has named the Iranian terrorist organization of Hezbollah as responsible for the attack.

Of the five Israelis who were killed, two of them were fathers in their 20s with young children. Three people were critically injured, and at least 30 were injured to various degrees, according to Siegel.

The Israeli government has programs to help victims of terrorist attacks and their families, including paying for medical care, disability costs, trauma care and other expenses – but it cannot cover everything, Siegel said. Therefore, organizations are helping to “address supplemental needs not covered by Israeli government bodies,” according to an announcement Thursday from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Donations to help the victims can be made via the Web sites of the L.A. Federation, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Orthodox Union. Building up a contribution made by the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Agency for Israel is raising funds via its Fund for the Victims of Terror program. Since its founding in 2002, the Fund for the Victims of Terror program has provided financial assistance to Israeli victims of rocket attacks from Gaza.

What Israeli government can provide victims is determined on a case-by-case basis, Siegel said. Non-governmental funding, however, can be used for everything from education costs for families where the primary breadwinner was killed, to burial costs and long-term medical care, according to Jay Sanderson, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The L.A. Federation promises to donate “100 percent of collected donations” and “absorb all administrative costs,” according to a statement released today.

“Whatever we can do to make a difference, that’s the approach we are taking,” Sanderson said, adding that the Jewish Agency for Israel will take the lead on administering the funds raised to the victims and their families.

To donate, visit:

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

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

At least 7 Israelis reported killed, dozens injured in Bulgarian terror attack


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[11:35 a.m., Haaretz] According to Bulgaria’s interior minister, five people were killed in the attack and 33 were wounded, 3 of whom are in critical condition.

“We are currently preparing a list with the names of the people on the flight, in order to identify the victims,” he said.

For more, visit ” title=”Haaretz.com” target=”_blank”>Haaretz.com.

[9:00 a.m., Reuters]: Three people were killed and over 20 injured by an explosion on a bus carrying Israeli tourists outside the airport of the coastal city of Burgas on Wednesday, Bulgarian authorities said.

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

“Initial information showed three people have died, there are injured,” a spokeswoman for the interior ministry said.

An Israeli witness said in an interview with Israeli army radio that the explosion was probably caused by a suicide bomber at the entrance of the bus.

Bulgarian police said it was investigating and could not say at this point what caused the explosion.

Bulgarian national radio said many people were injured in the blast. Burgas airport was closed after the incident and flights were redirected to the airport of Varna, police said.

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.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Louise Ireland