Bulgaria to Reveal How It Traced Hezbollah to Deadly Attack on Israeli Tourists in Burgas

Bulgarian FM to seek EU sanctions against Hezbollah based on a computer printer in Beirut, DNA traces on a used SIM card and several suspicious telephone calls, and other pieces of evidence.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A computer printer in Beirut, DNA traces on a used SIM card and several suspicious telephone calls are just some of the clues that led Bulgarian intelligence agents to conclude that Hezbollah was behind last July’s bombing attack in Burgas, which killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov will be presenting these and many other pieces of evidence on Monday during a luncheon at the monthly conference of the EU Foreign Ministers Council in Brussels. Mladenov’s aim is to persuade his 26 colleagues that a terror attack in Burgas is no different than one in Paris, London, Rome or Berlin.

This will be no easy task. The atmosphere at Monday’s luncheon is expected to be tense. Even though over a dozen EU states issued statements supporting the investigation report Bulgaria issued nearly two weeks ago, the EU has no appetite right now for starting up with Hezbollah.

Since the report was issued, the United States, Britain, Holland and Israel have been making diplomatic efforts to get the EU to impose sanctions on Hezbollah. Britain and Holland are the only to EU nations to have declared Hezbollah a terror organization.

But the assessment in Jerusalem is that it will be a long time before there will be European action against Hezbollah, if only because this would require the agreement of all 27 EU states. Both France and Italy are known to oppose sanctions for fear they would send Lebanon into a serious tailspin that could become violent, while Germany has also been cautious.

At best, say Israeli Foreign Ministry officials, France might agree to put a few senior Hezbollah officials on its terror list, but not the whole group.

“We’re realistic; if we get that we’ll consider it an achievement,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Over the past three weeks, details about the identities of the three terrorists have been leaking to the Bulgarian, Canadian and Australian press, as well as about how they got to Bulgaria.

The three were Lebanese natives who held foreign passports − two Canadian and one Australian − and forged driver’s licenses from Canada and the United States. The true identity of the terrorist who was killed is still not known, though it is assumed he was a Canadian citizen. In the investigative report he is identified as Jack Philip Martin, the name on his forged Canadian driver’s license.

DNA samples of his were sent to several Western intelligence agencies but none of them could find a match to anyone in their records. The only clue that connected him to the terrorists who survived and fled was a SIM card and a forged Canadian driver’s license that were found in a small town on the Bulgarian-Romanian border. The items, which belonged to a cell member who got away, had DNA traces that were very similar to the DNA of the suicide terrorist. The forged driver’s licenses that all three of them carried yielded the most significant smoking gun, since with the help of foreign intelligence sources the Bulgarians managed to locate the printer that had produced the forged documents − and it wasn’t in Canada or in the United States, but in Lebanon.

The cell members went from Beirut to Istanbul and then flew to Warsaw. From there they took trains to Prague, Romania and then Burgas. The two surviving cell members fled back to Lebanon the same way.

The three spent about a month in Europe before the attack, most of it in Burgas, where they switched hotels every couple of days and were rarely seen together. The investigation found that there was an increase in the number of calls between Burgas and Lebanon in the days that preceded the attack, among them several suspicious calls that were apparently between the cell members and Hezbollah officials.

During their stay in Burgas, the cell monitored the movements of Israeli tourists. The original plan was to attack a hotel that catered primarily to Israelis, but in the end they decided to target a tour bus.

According to the Bulgarians, the plan was to plant the bomb on the bus and blow it up by remote control as it was making its way from the airport to the city. The cell member later picked out by the airport security cameras was waiting for a group of Israeli tourists so he could accompany them to their bus and plant his bag with the bomb on it.

This is where the plan went awry. Two of the Israelis confronted the terrorist as he was trying to shove his bag deep into the bus’ cargo hold. Since the three-kilogram bomb had been put together by the cell in a relatively amateurish fashion, the shaking of the bag apparently caused the bomb to explode prematurely, turning the terrorist into an unwitting suicide bomber.

Smoke rising after a terrorist blast at Bulgaria's Burgas airport July 18, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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