Jerusalem, July 19 — Authorities are piecing together the circumstances surrounding the explosion that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian tour guide Wednesday just after they arrived in the port city of Burgas and boarded a private bus. The suicide bomber also was killed. Another 34 people, all Israelis aboard the bus, were injured. [Listen to/download an Mp3 providing analysis of the attack today by Israeli Maj.-Gen. Danny Yatom]
Footage released by Bulgarian police shows the alleged bomber walking around the airport for at least an hour before the attack. The Times of Israel reports that Bulgarian media have named the bomber as Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen, with Algerian and Finnish origins who was held at Guantanamo Bay prison from 2002-2004 and previously studied at a Muslim religious school and mosque in Britain.
He was carrying a driver’s license from Michigan – apparently fake.
The names and ages of the victims have not been released, but their families have been notified. The bodies are being flown back to Israel tonight and will be sent immediately to Tel Aviv’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute for testing.
The attack occurred at about 5:30 p.m. local time, shortly after the tourists landed at Burgas’ Sarafovo Airport on a flight from Tel Aviv and boarded several buses to travel to the city’s Globus Hotel. Bulgarian media reported that 44 peoplewere on the bus that was attacked, and the buses were still in the airport terminal at the time.
Israeli forces have begun airlifting the wounded back to Israel for treatment, but two were so severely injured that they remain in a Bulgarian hospital. Other Israeli tourists who were part of the tour group but were in the airport terminal at the time of the explosion refused to leave the airport for fear of more attacks and are awaiting transport back to Israel.
Last night, two Israeli aircrafts carrying medical staff, a casualty identification team, a police forensic team, as well as Israeli diplomats to assist in the return of Israelis who lost their identification in the attack flew to Bulgaria, Haaretz reports.
Immediately following the attacks, President Obama released the following statement:
“I strongly condemn today’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Israel, Bulgaria, and any other nation whose citizens were harmed in this awful event.
He added, “These attacks against innocent civilians, including children, are completely outrageous. The United States will stand with our allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack. As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.”
Other foreign leaders, including European Union chief Catherine Ashton, also condemned the attack, saying, “The EU utterly condemns all acts of terrorism, wherever they take place,. The terrorists who planned and carried out this attack must be brought to justice."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday issued a statement blaming Iran for the attack, saying, “All signs point towards Iran. Over the last few months we have seen Iran’s attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Exactly 18 years to the day after the horrendous attack on the Jewish Community Center in Argentina, deadly Iranian terrorism continues to strike at innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it.” Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Argentine Jewish Centre in Buenos Aires. Eighty-five people were killed and more than 600 were injured in Argentina’s largest terrorist attack. No one has been charged in connection with the bombing, but evidence points to involvement by Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.
Burgas, which lies along the Black Sea, is Bulgaria’s fourth-largest city and is known as a cultural and tourist hub.