Bulgarian Charge of Hezbollah Bombing Was an “Assumption”
By Gareth Porter
February 09, 2013 -- LONDON, Feb 7 2013 (IPS)
- Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov’s
dramatic announcement Tuesday on the Bulgarian investigation
of the July 2012 terror bombing of an Israeli tourist bus
was initially reported by Western news media as suggesting
clear evidence of Hezbollah’s responsibility for the
But more accurate reports on the minister’s statement and
the only details he provided reveal that the alleged link
between the bomb suspects and Hezbollah was merely an
“assumption” rather than a conclusion based on specific
Tsvetanov was quoted by various Western news outlets as
saying, “We have established that the two were members of
the militant wing of Hezbollah.” The minister also said,
“There is data showing the financing and connection between
Hezbollah and the two suspects,” according to the BBC and
Those statements implied that the Bulgarian investigators
had uncovered direct evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in
the Burgas bombing.
But the New York Times on Wednesday quoted Tsvetanov as
saying, in remarks to a session of Bulgaria’s Consultative
Council on National Security Tuesday, “A reasonable
assumption, I repeat a reasonable assumption, can be made
that the two of them were members of the militant wing of
That statement appeared to acknowledge that he was merely
speculating on the basis of data that doesn’t necessarily
support that conclusion.
In a report on Wednesday by Sofia News Agency, Bulgaria’s
largest English-language news provider, Tsvetanov was quoted
as saying that the investigation had led to a “well-founded
assumption” that two of the perpetrators of the deadly
attack belonged to what the Bulgarian government is calling
the “militant wing of Hezbollah”.
In an interview with Bulgarian National Radio Wednesday, the
Bulgarian chief prosecutor, Sotir Tsatsarov, emphasised that
the investigation of the Burgas bus bombing had not been
concluded and expressed concern about the term “well-founded
The chief prosecutor implied that Tsvetanov’s conclusion
about Hezbollah might have been swayed by political
pressures. Tsatsarov said that the prosecutor’s office
“could not be used to make political decisions or to justify
them”, according to Sofia News Agency.
In a television interview for the morning broadcast of
Bulgarian National Television, Bulgarian Foreign Minister
Nikolay Mladenov defended Tsvetanov’s use of the phrase
“well-founded assumption”. Mladenov explained that it meant
that Bulgaria had “good reason” to believe that the attack
had been organised and inspired by members of the militant
branch of Hezbollah at this stage of the investigation,
Sofia News Agency reported.
But Mladenov did not claim that any of those “good reasons”
consisted of hard evidence.
In an interview with Associated Press Tuesday, Europol
Director Rob Wainright said, “The Bulgarian authorities are
making quite a strong assumption that this is the work of
But Wainright also cited only the most general arguments in
support of Tsvetanov’s “assumption”, declaring, “From what
I’ve seen of the case – from the very strong, obvious links
to Lebanon, from the modus operandi of the terrorist attack
and from other intelligence that we see – I think that is a
Europol had sent several investigators to help the Bulgarian
authorities on the Burgas bombing investigation, Wainwright
told Associated Press.
None of the details provided by Tsvetanov, according to
press reports, involved evidence showing that two of the
alleged conspirators belonged to Hezbollah or to Hezbollah
financing of the terror plot.
The most important piece of evidence cited by Tsvetanov was
the lengthy stays in Lebanon by two of the three alleged
participants in the bombing and driver’s licenses that were
forged in Lebanon.
Tsvetanov said the two alleged conspirators with Canadian
and Australian passports who are believed to have helped the
third member of the cell carry out the Burgas bombing lived
in Lebanon between 2006 and 2010.
He also indicated that two of driver’s licenses used by the
conspirators were “forged in Lebanon”, and that Bulgaria was
able to piece together the movements of two of the suspects
from Lebanon to Europe.
Those connections between the alleged conspirators and the
bombing by themselves could hardly support an assumption of
Hezbollah responsibility for the bombing. Al-Qaeda terrorist
cells have been operating in Lebanon for years, and have the
technical capability for such a bombing plot.
Members of one Al-Qaeda network of 13 men organised in
different cells arrested in 2006 and 2007 confessed to
having planned and carried out the 2005 assassination of
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, although they
retracted their confessions before trial.
Furthermore, Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for a
series of terrorist bombings involving Israeli tourists in
the past, whereas there is no known case of a Hezbollah
bombing of Israeli tourists, as a Hezbollah spokesman
pointed out Wednesday.
In November 2002, Al-Qaeda carried out a terrorist attack on
Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya in November 2002 that
involved an attempted shoot-down of an Israeli passenger
aircraft and a triple suicide car bombing of an
Two years later, an Al-Qaeda affiliate took responsibility
for bombings at three Red Sea resorts, killing 34 Israeli
tourists. And in July 2005, the same Al-Qaeda-related
organisation took responsibility for suicide bomb attacks
that killed at least 88 people at a shopping area and hotel
packed with tourists, including Israelis, in the Egyptian
Red Sea resort city of Sharm el Sheik.
Nevertheless, Tsvetanov offered no other specific evidence
to support his conclusion.
Another aspect of the Bulgarian investigation suggesting
that information about the alleged participants is still
very limited is the fact, reported by the Bulgarian daily
newspaper Sega, that the investigators had found no direct
communication and only “indirect indications” of ties
between the Arab holding an Australian passport and the
perpetrator of the attack.
The Bulgarian charge of Hezbollah responsibility for the
bombing based on little more than assumption has raised the
suspicion in Bulgaria that the government was under pressure
from the United States and Israel to reach a conclusion that
aligned with the Israeli-American position.
Foreign Minister Mladenov denied that Bulgaria was pressured
into issuing a statement on the progress of the
investigation. But both Israel and the United States have
given evidence of wanting such a statement.
Bulgaria is a member of NATO and has expanded military and
intelligence ties with Israel since Israeli relations with
Turkey soured in 2009.
Israel also played a key role in the Bulgarian
investigation, as Interior Minister Tsvetanov acknowledged
in his presentation Tuesday. He specifically thanked the
Israeli government for its support in regard to the
investigation and said Israel had provided “relevant
expertise” in regard to one of the indicators implicitly
cited as pointing to Hezbollah – the identification of the
false driver’s licenses used by the alleged bomb cell.
Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that Israel and the United States
had both feared that, “while the investigation’s finding
would be clear, Bulgaria’s public statement would be
ambiguous and would not name Hezbollah responsible.”
John Brennan, U.S. President Barack Obama’s primary adviser
on homeland security and counter-terrorism, issued a
statement that portrayed the Bulgarian investigation as
having reached a definitive conclusion. Brennan praised the
Bulgarian authorities for “their determination and
commitment to ensuring that Hizballah is held to account for
this act of terror on European soil”.
*Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist
specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the
UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles
on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
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