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Bulgarian Police Believe Bomber had Accomplices

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A screen shot of video footage from the July 18 bus attack in Burgas. (Source: YouTube)Terror struck the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas last Wednesday, as a suicide bomber boarded a tour bus and brutally murdered five Israeli travelers and the driver. In the week since, efforts have been made to identify the party responsible, and to assess the political repercussions of the attack in light of the tensions currently mounting in the Middle East, particularly between Israel, Hezbollah, and Iran. And according to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, the bomber didn’t act alone.

After the attack, Israel blamed Tehran and its militant arm in Hezbollah for the bombing. Bombers have often used an anniversary of a previous “accomplishment” to orchestrate another, similar explosion, and Wednesday’s tragedy took place on the eighteenth anniversary of the 1994 bomb attack in Argentina. Then, a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 85 in an attack at the headquarters of one of Argentina’s largest Jewish organizations.

Also, a few days before the Bulgarian bombing, a suspected Hezbollah operative was arrested in Cyprus on charges he was plotting to kill Israel terrorists there, according to the New York Times. The U.S. later identified the bomber as indeed being a Hezbollah operative, confirming earlier suspicions.

Speaking at a press conference, Prime Minister Borisov indicated that the attacker and his accomplices were “extremely experienced.”

“From what we can see, they came a month in advance,” he added.

Borisov noted that the sophistication with which the suspects appear to operate. “They changed hire car again and again. They stayed in different cities so they would not be seen together – no camera footage shows more than one person from the ones we are looking for.”

The Bulgarian Prime Minister noted that the suspects “observed absolute secrecy,” and lamented that there was likely no way that authorities could have prevented the attack unless they had “come by chance upon the explosive while it was being prepared,” implying that the bomb had most likely—rather than being shipped in from abroad—been manufactured within his nation’s borders.

Saying his country would “react powerfully” to avenge the deaths of its citizens last week, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had many concerned Jerusalem might finally carry out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, something many international observers fear may provoke a regional conflagration in the Middle East.

“[They] attack and murder innocent citizens, families, young ones, children, people who went for an innocent vacation and whose sin is to be Israeli and Jewish,” Netanyahu said, referring to Tehran and Hezbollah.

A statement from Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, however, signaled Israel would make targeted efforts to only punish those directly responsible for the bombing—not the nations or countries from which they derive.

“[Israel will] do everything possible in order to find those responsible, and those who dispatched them, and punish them,” Barak said on Israel Radio last week, according to Reuters.

The Burgas attack was the worst on Israeli citizens since 2004, when twelve were killed in Egypt, according to the Wall Street Journal. As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, Israel is growing increasingly worried about Hezbollah and the movement of dangerous chemical stockpiles and weaponry within the beleaguered state, and the allegedly Hezbollah-led Bulgarian bombing comes amid these escalating fears.

154 people, including eight children, were aboard the tour bus at the time of the explosion. Thirty three were sent home for treatment, and 100 others ended their trips prematurely following the bombing.
Shortly after news of the explosion broke, investigations were launched and rumors sprung from multiple places on the bomber’s identity. Though characterized as having been in his mid-thirties and in possession of a Michigan driver’s license at the time of the attack, subsequent searches by the U.S. in the DMV’s systems failed to identify the terrorist. He is believed to have spent less than a week in Bulgaria before the attack.

Local media first reported Mehdi Ghezali as a suspect, an al Qaeda militant released from Guantanamo Bay in 2004. An unidentified source close to the New York Daily News said the claim was false, according to a report last week.

Some believe the attacker may have been working on Iran’s behalf, as Tehran has often publicly promised to respond to what are believed to have been joint Israeli-U.S. covert ops to assassinate several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years, the latest having taken place in Northern Tehran in January.

Other bombing plots—most foiled— in places such as Kenya, Thailand, Georgia, and India are believed by Israel to have been part of the regime’s most recent efforts to avenge the scientists’ deaths.
Iran’s state-run TV station has dismissed claims that Iran was behind the attack as “sensational” and “ridiculous.”

For its part, the European Union rejected a request from Israel on Tuesday to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

At a meeting with Bulgarian officials, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan expressed suspicion of Iran, but hesitance to accuse them of last week’s attack. “The U.S. is very concerned about the activities of Hezbollah as well as the activities of Iran in the terrorist realm,” he said. “But again we will want to see the results of the Bulgarian investigation.”

Added Borisov: “We do not want to get involved in this long-standing conflict as we are very vulnerable.”

“We cannot allow ourselves to point fingers at anyone.”

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