Canadian Suspect in Bulgaria Bus Bombing Likely Triggered Explosion Prematurely, Killing his Relative and Five Israelis
by Adrian Humphreys
The National Post, Canada
Investigators probing a deadly tour bus bombing in Bulgaria believe a Canadian suspect in the attack was supposed to provide logistical support — arranging travel and accommodation — but may have ended up detonating the bomb, inadvertently killing a relative who was a co-conspirator.
Bulgarian authorities allege Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 25, who emigrated from Lebanon to Canada as a child, is a Hezbollah operative involved in last year's bombing of a bus at an airport on Bulgaria's coast that killed five Israeli tourists and their local driver.
Investigators tell the National Post the roles of at least three of the four suspects in the attack are becoming clearer.
Mr. Hassan's planned role is believed to have been logistics: to arrange safe entry and exit to and from Bulgaria for the group and find them accommodation and transport, according to a source involved in the investigation.
But the bombing did not go exactly as planned.
Mr. Hassan travelled to Warsaw, Poland, using his Canadian passport. From there, Mr. Hassan, Meliad Farrah, 32, an Australian citizen also originally from Lebanon, and a third man, whose name is not known, but DNA tests show is a relative of Mr. Hassan, travelled to Bulgaria using false identification, posing as tourists.
The men likely brought at least some of the bomb parts with them to Bulgaria by train, including the remote control device to detonate it.
Mr. Farrah is accused of assembling the bomb in Bulgaria but seems to have left the country before the attack. A Lebanese television station said Mr. Farrah returned to Lebanon on July 17, 2012, the day before the explosion.
The job of the unidentified relative of Mr. Hassan was to place the bomb, hidden in a backpack, into the luggage compartment of the tour bus at Sarafovo Airport, targeting Israeli tourists arriving from Tel Aviv to visit Bulgaria's Black Sea resort.
The bomb was to be detonated with a device having a 10-kilometre range.
It is now believed that Mr. Hassan likely is the one who triggered the explosion, the investigator said. Mr. Hassan's relative, carrying the bomb, was decapitated in the blast.
Authorities initially described it as a suicide bombing, but now think the detonation occurred prematurely as the bomb was being planted.
Although the dead bomber's DNA shows he was related to Mr. Hassan, the exact family connection is uncertain and his identity is unknown. An investigator described it as likely being a distant relative.
It is not clear why Mr. Hassan's role seems to have changed, but if it was an unexpected switch it might explain why the plan faltered with the bomb not going off as it was likely meant to, as the bus was en route to the tourists' hotel.
The role of a fourth man, also unidentified, is not yet clear. He is described as having European features.
After the bombing, Mr. Hassan fled to Romania before travelling to the Middle East, either returning to Lebanon or hiding in the Gaza Strip, according to reports.
Mr. Hassan and Mr. Farrah were named last week as wanted fugitives who will face trial, in absentia if necessary, in Bulgaria.
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