Two individuals with links to Lebanon's terror group Hezbollah were involved in a bomb attack on a bus in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists last July, Bulgaria's interior minister said on Tuesday.
The conclusions of the Bulgarian investigation may open the way for the European Union to join the United States in branding the Iranian-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization since there is now a clear connection to an attack on EU territory.
- 7 killed in terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria
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- US: Burgas terrorist a Hezbollah operative
Three people were involved in the attack, two of whom had genuine passports from Australia and Canada, Tsvetan, Tsvetanov told reporters after Bulgaria's national security council discussed the investigation.
"We have established that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said. "There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects. What can be established as a well-grounded assumption is that the two persons whose real identity has been determined belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah."
Israel also blamed the attack in the Black Sea city - which killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber - on Iran and Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite Islamist terror group that is part of the Lebanese government.
Hezbollah chief Nasrallah addresses supporters (Photo: EPA)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the Bulgarian probe's findings "are clear. Hezbollah is directly responsible for the horrendous Burgas attack."
In his statement the prime minister added: "The findings are an additional confirmation to what we already know. Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, are running a global terror campaign across borders and continents.
"The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against a member of the European Union. We hope the Europeans will draw the necessary conclusions about the true character of Hezbollah," Netanyahu said.
Bus after shortly after explosion (Archive photo: Reuters)
President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan also issued a statement, saying the US "commends the Government of Bulgaria for its professional and comprehensive investigation into the barbaric July 18, 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas. Today, following a thorough review of the evidence collected to date, Bulgarian authorities announced their judgment that Lebanese Hezbollah was responsible for carrying out this act of terrorism, which killed six innocent civilians and injured many others.
"Bulgaria’s investigation exposes Hezballah for what it is – a terrorist group that is willing to recklessly attack innocent men, women, and children, and that poses a real and growing threat not only to Europe, but to the rest of the world. We commend Bulgarian authorities for their determination and commitment to ensuring that Hezbollah is held to account for this act of terror on European soil. The United States will continue to provide the Bulgarian Government assistance in bringing the perpetrators of this heinous attack to justice," he said.
"Hezbollah’s dangerous and destabilizing activities – from attacking tourists in foreign countries to leader Hassan Nasrallah’s active support of Bashar al-Assad’s violent campaign against the Syrian people – threaten the safety and security of nations and citizens around the world. Bulgaria’s implication of Hezbollah underscores the importance of international cooperation in disrupting terrorist threats. We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hizballah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks."
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, "The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil. The EU and member states will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators."
In response to the findings, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said his country "trusts that the Bulgarian authorities will undertake a serious evaluation of the results of the investigation and affirms that it is ready to cooperate with Bulgaria to shed light on the circumstances" of the attack.
Tehran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of plotting and carrying out the blast. Hezbollah has not publicly responded to charges by Israel and US agencies that it played a role.
The Netherlands said in August that the EU should follow the lead of the United States, which designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the 1990s, a move that would enable the EU to freeze Hezbollah's assets in Europe.
Victims' families (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Israel and the US deem Hezbollah a terror group and have been urging the EU to do the same for years, over the Lebanon-based militia's proven ties to Iran and other terror groups in the Middle East, such as Hamas.
The EU's assertion so far has been that whatever Hezbollah's activities in the Middle East – it does not pose a threat to Europe.
A Bulgarian conclusion that it had executed a terror attack on European soil could dramatically change that.
It is believed that thousands of Hezbollah operatives and supporters operate in Europe, albeit mostly in a fundraising capacity.
Yitzhak Benhorin, Reuters, AP, AFP, Roi Kais contributed to this report
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