Bulgaria says Hezbollah behind fatal bus bombing

SOFIA Tue Feb 5, 2013 10:10pm IST

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria said on Tuesday it had evidence showing that Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah carried out a bomb attack on a bus in the Black Sea city of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists last year.

The conclusions of the Bulgarian investigation, citing a clear connection to an attack on European Union soil, might open the way for the EU to join the United States in branding the Iranian-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Three people were involved in the attack, two of whom had genuine passports from Australia and Canada, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters after Sofia's national security council discussed the investigation.

"There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects," Tsvetanov said.

"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 blamed the attack in Burgas, which killed five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian driver and the bomber, on Iran and Hezbollah, a Shi'ite Islamist militia that is part of the Lebanese government and waged a brief 2006 war with Israel.

Iran has denied responsibility and accused arch-enemy Israel of plotting and carrying out the bus bombing last July.

Hezbollah, designated by the United States as a terrorist organisation in the 1990s, had no immediate reaction to Tuesday's announcement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah and Iran were waging a "global terror campaign" and the Burgas bomb was just one in a series of attacks carried out against civilians in Thailand, Kenya, Turkey, India, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia.

"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 in a statement.

EU ASSESSING RESULTS

"The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil," a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. "The EU and member states will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators."

The Netherlands considers Hezbollah a terrorist group and said in August that the EU should also do so, which would mean Brussels could act to freeze Hezbollah assets in Europe.

Britain reserves the designation for Hezbollah's armed wing but other EU member states, which have blacklisted the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, have resisted U.S. and Israeli pressure to do the same to Hezbollah.

Bulgaria, a member of NATO as well as the EU, had previously said that the bombing was plotted elsewhere and carried out by foreigners. Even so, that attack stoked tension in a country where Muslims make up some 15 percent of the 7.3 million population.

All three people involved in the attack had fake U.S. driving licences that were printed in Lebanon, Tsvetanov said. The two suspects with Canadian and Australian passports had been living in Lebanon, one since 2006 and the other since 2010.

No one has been arrested in connection with the attack and Tsvetanov said he hoped Australia, Canada and Lebanon would cooperate with the continuing investigation. (Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov in Sofia, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels and Dominic Evans in Beirut; Writing by Sam Cage; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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