A lanky, long-haired man wearing a baseball cap and plaid shorts with a fake Michigan driver’s licence carried out a deadly suicide attack on a bus full of Israeli vacationers, Bulgarian officials said on Thursday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attack on Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shia Muslim guerrilla group, and threatened retaliation. Seven people — five Israelis, the Bulgarian driver and the bomber — died in the blast on Wednesday.
Although no group claimed responsibility, Israel has attributed a series of attacks on its citizens around the world in recent months to Iran and its Shia proxies, threatening to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies.
The attack occurred shortly after the Israelis boarded a bus outside the airport in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, a popular destination for Israeli tourists particularly for high school graduates before they are drafted into military service. Burgas is about 400 km east of the capital, Sofia.
Bulgarian television aired security camera footage on Thursday showing the suspected bomber wandering in and out of the terminal shortly before the blast. He was dressed as a tourist himself, wearing a baseball cap, T-shirt, plaid shorts and sneakers with short white socks. He carried a large backpack with wheels.
Officials said the bomb detonated in the luggage compartment of the bus as the attacker mingled among his victims.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days.
“We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” the minister said. He declined to elaborate.
Officials were using DNA samples to try to establish his identity. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov told reporters that a Michigan driver’s licence was retrieved, but he said U.S. officials reported that “there was no such person in their database.” Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab communities in the U.S.
The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Tel Aviv carrying 154 people, including eight children. Some of them told Israeli television that they were just boarding the white bus in the airport parking lot for a ride to their hotel when the blast occurred.
Officials reported overnight that an eighth person had died, but later said that was incorrect.
Israel’s military said a military plane carrying 33 Israelis injured in the bombing arrived on Thursday in Israel. At least two critically injured Israelis were sent to Sofia for treatment, according to the head of the Israeli military medical corps, Brig. Gen. Itzik Kreis.
A Bulgarian government plane will fly home 100 other Israelis who were not wounded, but who want to cut short their vacation.
Bulgarian authorities on Thursday dispatched 200 police personnel to hotels where about 1,000 Israelis were staying just north of Burgas. A representative of the Ortanna tour company said about 10,000 Israelis had booked vacations in Bulgaria through the firm this summer and about half had cancelled after the attack.
Keywords: Bulgaria terror attack