Bulgaria: Bombing most likely suicide attack

Associated Press
Israeli military and medical personnel talk in front of a hospital in the city of Burgas, Bulgaria, Thursday, July 19, 2012. A daytime bombing that killed eight people and injured dozens on a bus full of Israeli tourists was most likely a suicide attack, Bulgaria's interior minister said Thursday. He said the suspected attacker was carrying a Michigan driver's license that was being sent to the FBI for authentication. (AP Photo/Impact Press Group)
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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A brazen daytime bombing that killed seven people and injured dozens on a bus full of Israeli tourists was most likely a suicide attack, Bulgarian officials said Thursday. Israel stood by its claim that Iranian-backed Hezbollah was responsible and vowed to hit back.

The identity of the suspected bomber was still unknown but a Michigan driving license that he carried was a fake, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said.

"We worked on this with colleagues from the FBI and the CIA," Borisov said. "They said that there is no such person in their database."

The suspected bomber appeared on security camera tape for nearly an hour before the Wednesday attack, which gutted the bus at the airport in the quiet Black Sea resort of Burgas, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of the capital, Sofia.

Borisov said he wants a photo of the suspect taken from the tape released and that a DNA expert is checking the suspect's fingerprints.

"The site is still under investigation," Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said. "Our main goal is within the day to gather the necessary evidence."

The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Tel Aviv carrying 154 people, including eight children. Young Israelis said they were just boarding when the blast ripped through the white vehicle in the airport parking lot.

Officials lowered the death toll to seven after mistakenly reporting that someone had died overnight. The death toll now includes five Israelis, the Bulgarian driver and the suspected bomber.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell upon Iran and its Lebanese proxy, the Hezbollah guerrilla group. Iran's state TV rejected accusations of Tehran's involvement, saying in a commentary Thursday that claims by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others were "ridiculous" and "sensational."

Israel stood by its stance.

"The direct executors are Hezbollah," Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday. "Israel will do all it can to find those responsible and punish them, both those who carried it out directly and those who dispatched them."

Despite repeated alerts and concerns about an Iranian-backed attack in recent months, Israel said it had no advance intelligence on a pending attack in Bulgaria.

The bombing was the latest in a series of attacks attributed to Iran that have targeted Israelis and Jews overseas and threatened to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies.

Israel said a military plane carrying 33 Israelis injured in the bombing left Burgas for Israel, where they will be taken from the airport to the hospital. A Bulgarian government plane will fly 100 other Israelis who were not wounded but who wanted to cut short their vacation back to Israel.

The resort town of Burgas has become a popular travel destination in recent years for Israelis, particularly for recent high school graduates before they are drafted for mandatory military service.

Israel dispatched a military medical and relief team to Bulgaria, a European Union nation of 7.3 million that borders Greece and Turkey.

The Burgas airport was closed and traffic redirected. In Sofia, Mayor Yordanka Fandakova ordered a stronger police presence at all public places linked to the Jewish community. Some 5,000 Jews live in Bulgaria, most in the capital.

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Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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