NYT: Multinational Search in Bulgaria Blast
New York Times
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER and NICHOLAS KULISH
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Law enforcement and intelligence officials from several countries are working to find two presumed Hezbollah members, a Canadian and an Australian, both of Lebanese descent, who are believed to be behind a deadly bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian officials have declined to release the names of the men, who they believe were working with a third man who was accidentally killed while trying to stow the bomb in the luggage compartment under the bus. Additional details continued to emerge about the bombing, which killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounded dozens more in a parking lot near the Burgas airport last summer.
In an interview Wednesday, the interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said the three flew from Beirut to Warsaw, then traveled by train to Bulgaria. Mr. Tsvetanov said evidence indicated that the plan was to blow up the bus while it was traveling to a hotel using a remote detonator with a range of 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles.
“This means that the bus could be easily blown up five to six kilometers away from the airport,” Mr. Tsvetanov said. “Of course, in this case he made a mistake.”
The Bulgarian announcement Tuesday that Hezbollah was believed to be behind the attack put significant pressure on European Union leaders to formally declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization and to crack down on the group’s fund-raising operations on the Continent. It is a move the bloc has long resisted, as countries like France and Germany have preferred to engage with Hezbollah as a political force in Lebanon rather than ban it in connection with terrorist activities.
Hezbollah has denied playing a role in the bombing. The group’s deputy leader, Sheik Naim Qassem, said Wednesday during a meeting with students that “Israel is leading an international intimidation campaign against Hezbollah.” He added that “accusations against Hezbollah will not change anything and do not change the realities and the facts.”
According to Mr. Tsvetanov, after the bomb exploded, the two surviving conspirators escaped by land, heading north into Romania. Investigators discovered a forged driver’s license and a social security card in the village of Tsar Kaloyan. DNA from the dead man was found on the social security card, linking him to the fleeing suspects.
From Romania the two men flew to Turkey before traveling to Lebanon, Mr. Tsvetanov said. He would not say whether the suspects were currently in Lebanon or whether a warrant had been issued for their arrest.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany condemned the attack, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Wednesday. “If the evidence solidifies that Hezbollah actually was responsible for this despicable attack, there will have to be consequences,” said Mr. Seibert.
France in particular is concerned about the effect such a determination could have on the stability of Lebanon, especially in light of the ongoing violence in Syria.
“We will consider the consequences in coordination with our European partners,” Philippe Lalliot, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said on Wednesday. “There are various options to study.”
Maja Kocijancic, a foreign affairs spokeswoman for the European Union, said Wednesday that the bloc would “assess the results of the investigation and discuss how to take it forward.” Asked whether declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization was a possible outcome, she said, “I expect that this will be an option that will be looked at among others.”
Officials in Canada and Australia said they were working with Bulgarian investigators. Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday that the Canadian suspect moved to Canada at the age of 8, obtained citizenship a few years later and left when he was 12.
“I understand he may have been back to Canada a few times since then,” Mr. Kenney said.
Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, Bob Carr, said in a statement Wednesday that “the Australian Federal Police has worked with Bulgarian authorities in pursuit of those responsible for the bombing.” Experts from the United States and Israel have been involved in the search for the perpetrators since July 18, 2012, the day of the attack.
Lebanese officials have said they, too, would cooperate with Bulgaria on the case. “Further discussions will be completed soon after receiving all the documents related to this topic from the Bulgarian public prosecutor,” President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon said on Wednesday.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Steven Erlanger from Paris, and Ian Austen from Ottawa.