Cops battle to identify Bulgaria bomber

2012-07-20 16:27
Bulgaria bus blast (AP)

Bulgaria bus blast (AP)

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Sofia - Bulgarian police were working flat out on Friday with the FBI and Interpol to identify a suicide bomber who killed five Israeli tourists, as the interior minister said the attacker was a foreigner.

Investigators have released CCTV footage of the person they believe carried out Wednesday's attack in the Black Sea airport of Burgas on a bus carrying Israeli holiday-makers, which also claimed the life of the Bulgarian driver.

But close to 48 hours after the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004, authorities had still not identified him. Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said on Friday only that the bomber "was not a Bulgarian citizen".

"Bulgaria is working with two other countries to determine the identity of the bomber," Tsvetanov told a news conference in Burgas, without elaborating.

He said the theory he had accomplices "could not be ruled out."

Unconfirmed reports

Investigators "are working very actively on Wednesday's terrorist attack. There will be more information within three or four days," Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told parliament.

The New York Times meanwhile cited unnamed US officials as identifying the suicide bomber in the Bulgaria attack as a member of a Hezbollah cell, corroborating Israel's version of events that is angrily rejected by Tehran.

Early on Friday five coffins draped in Israeli flags were taken off a military plane at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv watched by mourning relatives. The victims were due to be buried later in the day.

They were named as Kochava Shriki, 44, who was pregnant, and Yitzhik Kolengi, Amir Menashe, Elior Priess, and Maor Harush, all in their 20s. More than 30 people were also injured, three of them seriously.

Airport video footage released by Bulgarian authorities showed an apparently white male with long hair, possibly a wig, dressed in typical holiday gear - shorts, a baseball cap, sneakers - and carrying a backpack and a laptop bag.

Identification


Tsvetanov said the man, who was shown wandering around the airport, looked around 36 years old. He was carrying a fake driving licence from the US state of Michigan.

Investigators have taken fingerprints from the bomber's body and are trying to find a DNA match.

Kalina Tchapkanova, a Bulgarian prosecutor, was quoted by bTV television as saying that the day before the attack the suspect had tried to hire a car in nearby Pomorie but was refused because of doubts about his driving licence.

She cited witnesses as saying he spoke English with an accent, possibly an Arab one.

"The man took the refusal [to rent the car] calmly ... We have interviewed the taxi driver who took him to the airport in the afternoon. He also took a taxi in the morning to carry out reconnaissance," the prosecutor said.

"The man hardly spoke to the taxi drivers. He was calm."

Sources said investigators, who were in close contact with their Israeli counterparts, were focusing on recent Bulgarian converts to Islam and, in view of Hezbollah's possible involvement, on any Lebanese living in the country.

Blame

Israel has blamed Iran and Tehran's "terrorist proxy" Hezbollah, saying it fitted a pattern of other recent attacks or attempted attacks on Israelis including in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya and Cyprus.

The Islamic Republic, already under pressure over growing international tensions over its nuclear programme, rejected Israel's accusations as "ridiculous".

The New York Times cited one senior US official as saying the current US intelligence assessment was that the bomber was "acting under broad guidance" given to Hezbollah by Iran to hit Israeli targets.

US President Barack Obama has condemned what he called a "barbaric terrorist attack", echoing indignation from around the world.

Speaking in Florida, Obama said: "I want everybody to know, under my administration, we haven't just preserved the unbreakable bond with Israel, we have strengthened it."

Explosion


The explosion ripped through the bus as around 50 Israeli tourists arriving from Tel Aviv were loading their bags before travelling to a nearby holiday and gambling resort.

The bomber struck on the 18th anniversary of an attack on a Jewish community centre in Argentina that killed 85 people.

The burnt-out shell of the bus was taken away on Thursday evening and Burgas airport reopened shortly afterward under heavy security.

Later however, procedures returned to what they had been previously with Israeli tourists boarding buses in the same place as where the attack took place with no additional security.

Israel and Bulgaria have good relations and the Black Sea coast has become a popular holiday spot for Israelis, with almost 140 000 visiting the country in 2011. About 13% of the Bulgarian population is Muslim.

Read more on:    bulgaria  |  israel  |  security  |  bulgaria bus blast
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