Following the bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last summer, the government of Bulgaria engaged in an extensive investigtation to determine how the terrorist attack took place in their country.
On July 18, 2012, as Israeli tourists vacationing in Bulgaria began to board their tour bus in the Black Sea city of Burgas on the way back to their hotel, an explosion ripped through the bus, killing 5 Israelis plus the Bulgarian bus driver, and injuring 32 other Israelis.
The results are in, and Bulgaria has officially concluded that Hezbollah was behind the bombing.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov spoke with reporters on Tuesday, February 5, after his country’s national security council met to discuss the investigation, which revealed that three people were involved in the attack, two of whom had legitimate passports, one from Australia and one from Canada.
“There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects,” Tsvetanov said. He also revealed that based on the evidence they have reviewed, there is “a well-grounded assumption that the two persons whose real identity has been determined belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah.”
Initial reports, based on CCTV video footage, suggested that the attack was by a long-haired Caucasian Western suicide bomber who was dressed in beach shorts and carrying a fake Michigan driver’s license. The Bulgarian report concluded that the explosion was instead caused by a “sophisticated” bomb that was detonated by remote control. It is unclear why the bomb was activated before all the tourists boarded the bus, but there is speculation that was either a malfunction or occurred as the result of the transmitting device being jostled.
Israel, the United States and other countries are cautiously optimistic that, with the independent report produced by the Bulgarians, the European Union will finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist enterprise. The U.S. placed Hezbollah on its official Foreign Terrorist Organization list in the 1990s.
In order for the EU to follow suit, there needs to be a unanimous vote by all EU nation members. If that happens, the EU would then be able to freeze Hezbollah assets in Europe, and it could also issue travel bans on Hezbollah members.
Iran, the financial, political and military sponsor of Hezbollah, denied responsibility for the attack, and instead blamed Israel for carrying out the terrorist bombing.
Top leadership of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee issued statements today, February 5, calling on the EU to officially list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Rep. Ed Royce, chairman, and Eliot Engel (NY-16), the committee’s top Democrat, both issued statements.
Engel said, “The targetting of innocents cannot be tolerated by any European Union state and must be condemned forcefully and unanimously by all member nations.
“The time is now for the EU to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and punish these murderers.”
Cong. Royce, a California Republican, was even more pointed. Calling the EU’s reluctance to make the designation “incomprehensible,” he said
“Recent Hezbollah plots have been uncovered in Thailand, India, Cyprus, Georgia, Kenya, and elsewhere. Now that Hezbollah has been found responsible for an attack on a European Union member nation, the E.U. must designate it as a terrorist organization. Failure to do so will only give these killers the opportunity to further organize, recruit, raise funds, and carry out additional terrorist attacks across the continent.
In one of his first statements as secretary of state, John Kerry added the voice of the U.S. administration in calling on the EU to respond appropriately to Bulgaria’s confirmation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization with global reach.
“We strongly urge other governments around the world – and particularly our partners in Europe – to take immediate action to crack down on Hizbollah,” Kerry said in a statement. “We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity.”
John O. Brennan, who has been named by President Barack Obama to head the Central Intelligence Agency and who is currently the president’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, said Bulgaria’s investigation had exposed Hezbollah as “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.”
Thus far, the response from the EU has been disappointing, if not surprising.
Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU’s representative for foreign and security affairs, issued a statement shortly after the Bulgarian report was made public.
Ashton’s response was that “the implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians.”
Ashton signalled that the EU will take its time “assessing” and “discussing” before taking any formal action, because of the “need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation,” according to a Bulgarian news source.
One argument against listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization is the fear that it might destabilize Lebanon, as Hezbollah is a part of the Lebanese government. This is apparently the concern voiced by France.
A final interesting twist is that, according to the Saudi-owned pan-Arabian media outlet Al-Arabiya, the Lebanese government has pledged to cooperate with Bulgaria in determining how to evaluate the report. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Bikati said, “Lebanon 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.”
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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