Two individuals with links to Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah were involved in a bomb attack on a bus in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists last July, Bulgaria's interior minister said on Tuesday.
- Report: Bulgaria expected to blame Hezbollah, Iran for Burgas bombing
- Israel welcomes Bulgarian report linking Hezbollah to Burgas bombing
- Hezbollah: Burgas bombing charges are part of Israeli smear campaign
- Bulgaria: Burgas bombers are living in Lebanon
- Iran denies involvement in Burgas bus bombing that killed five Israelis
- Iran planning to recall Bulgaria envoy over hints of role in Burgas attack
- Bulgaria asks Europol to hunt down Hezbollah men suspected in Burgas attack on Israelis
In addition, after a six-hour cabinet meeting on the attack, Bulgaria's foreign minister said the investigation showed that Hezbollah financed the attack.
The conclusions of the Bulgarian investigation may open the way for the European Union to join the United States in branding the Iranian-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization since there is now a clear connection to an attack on EU territory.
Three people were involved in the attack, two of whom had genuine passports from Australia and Canada, Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters after Bulgaria's national security council discussed the investigation. He also said the two with Australian and Canadian passports have lived in Lebanon since 2006.
"We have established that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said. "There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects."
Netanyahu: Don't differentiate between military, political wings
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the Bulgarian probe into the 2012 attack that killed five Israelis, and called upon the European Union not to differentiate between Hezbollah's military wing and its political wing, which has joined the Lebanese government.
"There is only one Hezbollah. It is one organization with one leadership," Netanyahu said in a statement.
He also said that Hezbollah and Iran are waging a "global terror campaign" and that he hopes the European Union will "draw the necessary conclusions" regarding Hezbollah.
The Bulgarian probe is "further confirmation of what we already knew, that Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, are waging a global terror campaign across borders and continents," said Netanyahu.
He added: "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."
Even prior to Tuesday's statement, Israel had blamed the attack in the Black Sea city - which, in addition to the five Israeli tourists, killed their Bulgarian driver and the bomber - on Iran and Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite Islamist militia that is part of the Lebanese government.
Tehran has denied responsibility and accused Israel of plotting and carrying out the blast. Hezbollah has not publicly responded to charges by Israel and U.S. agencies that it played a role.
The Netherlands said in August that the European Union should follow the lead of the United States, which designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the 1990s, a move that would enable the European Union to freeze Hezbollah's assets in Europe.
The Obama administration on Tuesday also responded to the Bulgarian report, saying Hezbollah must be held to account for the bomb attack.
"We call on our European partners as well as other members of the international community to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah's infrastructure and disrupt the group's financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks," said John Brennan, a top national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama.
"Bulgaria's investigation exposes Hezbollah for what it is - 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," Brennan, Obama's nominee to head the CIA, said in a statement.
"The United States will continue to provide the Bulgarian Government assistance in bringing the perpetrators of this heinous attack to justice," Brennan said.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati responded to the Bulgarian report, saying his country would assist Bulgaria in its investigation. "We strongly condemn every attack on an Arab or foreign state," said Mikati.
Two weeks ago, Tzvetanov held a preliminary briefing on the bombing in Brussels to his 27 European Union counterparts. A few days earlier, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov arrived in Israel and informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the investigation's findings.
Israel and the United States had waited for Bulgaria's official statement to be released Tuesday in hopes it would hold Hezbollah and Iran responsible for the attack. The two countries had feared that while the investigation's finding would be clear, Bulgaria's public statement would be ambiguous and would not name Hezbollah responsible.
Since the July 18 bombing, Israel and the U.S. have been pressing European Union states to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. While Britain and the Netherlands support the move, other countries, such as France, oppose it. France, who is leading the resisting efforts, fears that holding Hezbollah responsible for the bombing would destabilize Lebanon, as the militant organization is one of the factions forming its government.