Suicide bomber behind Bulgaria bus attack had help, Bulgarian prime minister says


A suicide bomber who killed five Israeli tourists when he blew up a bus in Bulgaria last week was backed up by an organized group who helped him plan and carry out the attack, Boiko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, said on Tuesday.

Borisov said police had not yet identified the bomber whose attack also wounded more than 30 people at Burgas airport last Wednesday, but said the man had not acted alone.

“These are extremely experienced people who have followed strict conspiracy rules,” Borisov told reporters after meeting John Brennan, a counter-terrorism adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama.

“From what we see, they arrived nearly a month beforehand, changed rental cars, and traveled to different cities … and not more than one of the people we are looking for was captured on either security camera,” Borisov said.

He declined to give more details on the plotters.

Borisov said that the bomber’s DNA and finger prints had not matched anything held on file by Bulgaria or by partner spy agencies and that police were still working to identify him.

But he suggested that the attacker, whose bomb was concealed in his backpack, may have entered Bulgaria on a plane from the European Union’s “Schengen” passport-free travel zone. He did not elaborate.

Israel has accused Iran and the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah of the bombing. Iran has denied the accusations.

Borisov said that Bulgaria – a member of both the EU and NATO – would not say who it thought was responsible for the attack until the investigation was complete.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Osborn

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.”

Strangers to hate crimes, Bulgarian Jews reeling from Burgas bombing


Until this week, leaders of Bulgaria’s small, generally placid Jewish community said felt untouched by hate crimes or terrorism.

But after Wednesday’s apparent suicide bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Borgas, Jews in the country are speaking of a basic change in their sense of security.

“We used to convene without a shred of fear in the Jewish community’s buildings,” said Kamen Petrov, vice president of Maccabi Bulgaria. “I guess we had been unprepared. Things will have to change from now on. We thought something like this could not happen in Bulgaria.”

Wednesday’s explosion outside Sarafovo Airport in Burgas killed six Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the suspected suicide bomber. More than 30 Israelis were injured. The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Israel.

Maxim Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, said that three years ago the community had drafted emergency plans to respond to potential terror attacks.
“We discussed such scenarios. But we see that it’s one thing to discuss them, and it’s another to see the scenario happening before your eyes,” he told JTA. Bevenisti said security measures will now be tightened. “The situation needs to be improved,” he said.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said Wednesday that at a meeting a month ago, with representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service did not warn Bulgarian officials of the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Bulgaria’s Jewish community had increased its security arrangements in February, following warnings from the local Israeli Embassy, according to Martin Levi, vice chairman of the Jewish community in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Among other measures, security at the entrances to the community building in Sofia and other Jewish institutions were tightened. Bulgarian authorities had been made aware of the warnings, he said.

That came in the wake of the discovery by Bulgarian authorities of a bomb on a charter bus for Israelis that was heading to a Bulgarian ski resort from the Turkish border.

“We took the alerts seriously and upped security, but the Bulgarian authorities were dismissive,” Levi said. “Some argued Bulgaria was immune because it had such excellent relations and cultural attachment to Muslim populations. I am deeply disappointed in how the authorities handled this.”

He learned of the attack while in Hungary, where he is helping instructors run a summer camp for some 260 Jewish children from the Balkans. Next week, a summer camp for Bulgarian Jewish children will open in Bulgaria.

The camp has taken additional precautions as well, he said, without offering details.

“We want to beef up security without causing panic,” Levi said. “We try to tell the children as little as possible about the attack and continue with our program. We don’t want this to become ‘the summer camp of the terrorist attack.’”

The flow of Israeli tourists into Bulgaria picked up in 2009, following the deterioration in Israel’s relation’s with Turkey. Bulgaria’s minister of tourism was quoted as saying that nearly 150,000 Israelis were expected to visit Bulgaria this year. Some 20 percent of standing reservations from Israel have been canceled since the attack.

Tania Reytan, a sociologist at the University of Sofia who is Jewish and promotes interfaith dialogue, said she has limited faith in the effectiveness of additional security measures in the long run.

“The biggest security gap is in the extremist’s mind,” she said. “We need to reach out more to the other communities and explain who we are and what our values are.”

Though Bulgaria has a pro-Israel foreign policy, she said, “Israel is always mentioned in a negative context in Bulgaria.” The terrorists picked Bulgaria, she said, “because they sought for the weakest link in the European Union, and they found it.”

Some observers are worried that the attack could have negative repercussions for the generally positive relations between Bulgarians Jews and Muslims. Approximately 8 percent of Bulgaria’s 7 million people are Muslim, the vast majority of them ethnic Turks.

Bulgaria has an estimated 3,500 to 5,700 Jews.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in Bulgaria have historically been “peaceful and friendly,” said Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria.

On Thursday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days. “We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” the minister said. He declined to elaborate.

Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau, speculated that the suicide bomber might have been homegrown – either recruited locally or having crossed over from Turkey.

Representatives of Bulgaria’s Muslim community issued strong condemnations of the attack, as did representatives of various other ethnic and religious groups and associations.

“We refuse to believe that the bomber is a Bulgarian Muslim. We don’t believe that any of them could undertake such action,” said Ahmed Ahmedov, spokesman for the chief Bulgarian mufti.

Mufti Mustafa Alsih Hadzhi, in an official statement to the Bulgarian media, denounced Wednesday’s attack as a “barbarian act” and expressed condolences with the families of the victims. Ahmedov said that the attack should not be interpreted as a religious act, but as some kind of “economic provocation” aimed at crippling the local tourist business.
Despite the attack, some Israelis seem undeterred from coming to Bulgaria.

Rabbi Yossi Halperin of Varna – a city situated about 50 miles north of Burgas and where flights to and from Burgas were rerouted after the attack – said he found “a good number of recent arrivals” from Israel when he went to Varna’s airport “to help people through all the confusion.”

Svetlana Guineva reported for this story from Sofia, Bulgaria; Cnaan Liphshiz reported from The Hague, and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.

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

Paul McCartney is ‘shocked but not intimidated’ by jihadi threats re Israel concert [VIDEO]


LONDON (JTA)—Suicide bombers will target Paul McCartney unless he cancels his concert in Tel Aviv, a Muslim cleric said.

Omar Bakri said the ex-Beatle’s decision to perform in Israel “is creating more enemies than friends,” London’s Sunday Express reported.

“If he values his life Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there,” Bakri said. “The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Bakri made the comments on his weekly Internet broadcast from his home-in-exile in Lebanon after being banned from returning to Britain, according to the Express.

McCartney is scheduled to perform for thousands of Israelis in Hayarkon Park on Sept. 25 as part of a world tour.

Several pro-Palestinian and political groups have asked McCartney to cancel his show, but he has refused.



From The Express . . .

SIR PAUL: TERROR TARGET
Sunday September 14,2008
Dennis Rice
SIR Paul McCartney has been threatened that he will be the target of suicide bombers unless he abandons plans to play his first concert in Israel.

Self-styled preacher of hate Omar Bakri claimed the former Beatle’s decision to take part in the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary celebrations had made him an enemy of all Muslims.

Sources said Sir Paul was shocked but refused to be intimidated.

In an interview with Israeli media yesterday he said: “I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come here. I refused. I do what I think and I have many friends who support Israel.”

Sir Paul, 65, should have gone to Israel with the Beatles in 1965 but they were barred by the Jewish nation’s government over fears they would corrupt young people.

Yesterday a number of websites described him as an infidel and suggested he was going to Israel only because of the reported £2.3m fee for the one-off concert.

A message posted on one website said: “Shame on you Paul McCartney for day trippin’ to apartheid Israel” and vowed never to buy his music again.

Bakri, who made his weekly internet broadcast to fellow extremists from his home in Lebanon, where he has lived in exile since being banned from returning to Britain, said Sir Paul was “making more enemies than friends”.

Syrian-born Bakri, 48, went on: “I heard today that the pop star Paul McCartney is playing as a part of the celebrations.

“If you speak about the holocaust and its authenticity never being proved historically in the way the Jewish community portray it, people will arrest you. People will you say you should not speak like this. Yet they go and celebrate the anniversary of 60 years of what?

“Instead of supporting the people of Palestine in their suffering, McCartney is celebrating the atrocities of the occupiers. The one who is under occupation is supposed to be getting the help.

“And so I believe for Paul McCartney, what he is doing really is creating more enemies than friends.”

Explaining his comments, Bakri told the Sunday Express: “Our enemy’s friend is our enemy.

“Thus Paul McCartney is the enemy of every Muslim. We have what we call ‘sacrifice’ operatives who will not stand by while he joins in a celebration of their oppression.

“If he values his life Mr McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him.”

Lawyer Anjem Choudary, who last week chaired a meeting in London at which extremists claimed the next 9/11-style atrocity would be in Britain, said Sir Paul had allowed himself to become a propaganda tool for Israel.

He added: “Muslims have every right to be angry at Paul McCartney. How would the world react if he wanted to have a
concert in occupied Kashmir?

“They would not allow it to happen but because it is Israel he can play. A country which, as the celebration indicates did not exist 60 years ago, only exists thanks to stealing and occupying another country’s lands.” Yesterday the comments drew condemnation from Palestinian sources and outsiders.

Omar Barghouti, of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, described the threat as “deplorable”.

Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP for Newark and a former Shadow Security Minister, said: “One could dismiss Bakri as a ranting extremist but history has shown that he has an ability to twist minds, so his comments should not be underestimated.

“If Sir Paul McCartney wants to play at the 60th anniversary then it is the worst form of illiberalism for Omar Bakri to restrict the artist’s freedom in this way.”

A spokesman for Sir Paul declined to comment on the threat, saying: “Paul’s Friendship First concert is about his music. Paul’s is a message of peace.”

Tickets for the concert range from £70 to £230.

Last night Sir Paul performed his first concert in the Ukraine, playing to tens of thousands in the capital Kiev.

Fan video welcomes Sir Paul to Israel