- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

SOFIA, BulgariaHezbollah terrorists were responsible for the attack on a bus filled with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year, investigators said Tuesday, describing a sophisticated bombing carried out by a cell that included Canadian and Australian citizens.

In the first major announcement in the investigation into the July 18 bombing that killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said one of the suspects entered the country with a Canadian passport and another with one from Australia.

“We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” Mr. Tsvetanov said after a meeting of Bulgaria’s National Security Council. “We expect the government of Lebanon to assist in the further investigation.”

Within hours, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the attack and said his country would cooperate fully.

Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group and political party that emerged after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has been linked to attacks and kidnappings on Israeli and Jewish interests around the world.

Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev (left) and Prime Minister Boyko Boriossov were at Tuesday's briefing when investigators said Hezbollah planned the attack. (Associated Press)
Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev (left) and Prime Minister Boyko Boriossov were at ... more >

The group has denied involvement in the Bulgaria bombing, and Hezbollah officials in Beirut declined to comment Tuesday. Hezbollah officials as a rule leave it to their leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, to comment on security issues.

The bomb exploded as the bus took a group of Israeli tourists from the airport to their hotel in the Black Sea resort of Burgas. The blast also killed the suspected bomber, a tall and lanky pale-skinned man wearing a baseball cap and dressed like a tourist.

Although it was initially believed to be a suicide bombing, Europol Director Rob Wainwright said that investigators now believe the bomber never intended to die. He said a Europol expert who analyzed a fragment of a circuit board recovered from the scene determined that it was detonated remotely.

The investigators found no links to Iran, which Israel had accused of playing a role in the attack.

The findings increased pressure on Europe to declare Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization, as the United States and Canada do.

“The attack in Burgas was an attack on European land against a member of the European Union,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We hope the Europeans learn the proper conclusions from this about the true character of Hezbollah.”

The White House called on Europe to take “proactive action” to disrupt Hezbollah. Counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, who is President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, said Europe and other international partners should seek to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s finances and operational network.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird went further.

“We urge the European Union and all partners who have not already done so to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity and prosecute terrorist acts committed by this inhumane organization to the fullest possible extent,” he said, adding that Canada will work with Bulgarian authorities given the apparent involvement of “a dual national living in Lebanon.”

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign and security official, said the EU needs to assess the implications of the investigation seriously but stressed that any decision on adding Hezbollah to the EU list of terrorist organizations would require a unanimous decision by the foreign ministers of the 27 EU countries, whose next scheduled meeting is Feb. 18. Such a move would freeze Hezbollah assets and cut off funding.