News24

Bulgaria: Bombing probe encouraging

2012-08-17 20:00

Sofia - A month after the suicide bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria, investigators have made no major breakthroughs but progress has been encouraging, the country's interior minister said on Friday.

"It is only expected that it will take time, sometimes years, to uncover the whole mechanism behind the attack. But we are encouraged by the work we accomplished in the last 30 days," Tsvetan Tsvetanov said in an interview.

Identifying the foreign bomber, who killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver as well as himself in the 18 July attack at Burgas airport, has been the primary task.

No organisation has taken responsibility for the attack so far but Tsvetanov said on Friday it was "categorically" established that it had been plotted outside Bulgaria.

Picture circulated

"The perpetrator was almost 100% a foreigner... [who] had been present in the country since 29 June," Tsvetanov said.

Footage from an airport security camera, the bomber's severed head and a fake driving licence from the US state of Michigan in the name of Jacque Felipe Martin recovered from the site helped police to piece together a composite portrait.

The image shows a young man in his late 20s or early 30s with fair skin, light-coloured eyes, high forehead and shortish dark brown hair, even if he appeared to be wearing a wig during the attack and on the fake licence picture.

Global policing body Interpol has circulated the picture accompanied with a Black notice used to seek information on unidentified corpses but the attacker has remained unknown to date.

Outside Europe

Police also released this week a computer-generated image of the assailant's suspected accomplice, a stouter person with a much darker complexion, who according to the minister "was presumably linked to the preparation and implementation of the terrorist act".

The conclusion followed the discovery a week earlier of a fake US Michigan driving licence similar to that found on the bomber, whose owner named as Ralph William Rico was also obviously pictured with a wig, Tsvetanov said.

"The two [documents] were made in the same place, outside Bulgaria and I can also say outside Europe," the minister added.

Valuable information has also come from analysis of the bomb itself, he added, with parts of it resembling "a device used in such an attack in a different country", without saying which attack or which country.

"This adds to the conclusion that it could have been made abroad. Of course, the possibility remains to find the same chemical substances on Bulgarian territory," he added.

Blame

A technical investigation of the site had proved that the bomb, containing about 3kg of trotile explosive, went off outside the bus near its front luggage compartment.

"If it were inside the bus, the victims would have been many more," Tsvetanov said.

The explosion had also occurred when the backpack holding the bomb was still on the attacker's shoulders, Tsvetanov added, not ruling out the possibility of detonation by error or a remote control detonation
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Israel has blamed Iran and its "terrorist proxy" Hezbollah for the attack, the deadliest on Israelis abroad since 2004, although Bulgaria has said that there is no evidence of this. Iran has denied any involvement.

Tsvetanov would not comment on responsibility-related questions on Friday, citing lack of enough evidence from the investigation and concerns about "suggestions that might threaten national security".