NYT: Bulgaria Pulls Back on Blame for Hezbollah

Views on BG | June 6, 2013, Thursday // 09:11|  views

The Burgas bus bombing killed a total of five Israeli tourists, the Bulgarian bus driver, and the alleged perpetrator of the attack. Photo by BGNES


New York Times

Nearly a year after a bomb in a tour bus at the Burgas airport in Bulgaria killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver, the country's new government is trying to shift blame for the attack from Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite movement.

"The evidence is not categorical" that Hezbollah planned the attack, Bulgaria's foreign minister, Kristian Vigenin, said Wednesday in an interview with Bulgarian National Radio.

The comment came amid a European Commission debate about whether to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and after Hezbollah admitted its extensive support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

In the last few weeks, France and Germany have joined Britain in calling for the designation by the European Commission, the European Union's administrative arm, which could severely limit Hezbollah's fund-raising on the Continent.

Britain formally requested the designation on the basis of evidence of Hezbollah's involvement in the Bulgaria bombing and the conviction of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus in March for plotting a similar attack.

While there are indications that Hezbollah's involvement was possible, Mr. Vigenin said in the interview, "we can't take such a heavy decision with serious implications for the policy of the entire European Union on the basis of circumstantial evidence."

The new Bulgarian government, which took power last week, is led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the former Communists. The former governing party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, was seen as more pro-United States.

The bombing investigation has placed Bulgaria in a tight geopolitical squeeze between the larger European countries, which favor the terrorist designation for Hezbollah, and those that oppose the designation. Bulgaria has also expressed concern about jeopardizing its historically close relations with Middle Eastern countries.

Bulgaria's previous interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said at a news conference in February that evidence gathered to that point supported a "reasonable assumption" that Hezbollah had organized the bombing.

In an interview the next day, he said that two conspirators had been identified — a Canadian and an Australian, both Hezbollah members of Lebanese descent — and that a third man had died while placing the bomb in the baggage compartment of the bus in the airport. He remains unidentified, and investigators believe he was killed accidentally.

Mr. Tsvetanov also described an elaborate operation involving a remote detonator for the bomb and travel by the conspirators from Lebanon to Warsaw, Berlin and finally Bulgaria.

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