Israeli tourist bus bombing in Bulgaria possible suicide attack

Bulgarian authorities believe that the man shown in this CCTV image wearing a cap was a suicide bomber who attacked an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing seven.
(Bulgarian Interior Ministry)

JERUSALEM — As Israeli victims of the Bulgarian bus bombing arrived back home Thursday, security officials said they now believe the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber with a fake American passport.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who has blamed Lebanon-based Hezbollah and its Iranian backers for the bombing — called upon the international community to further isolate the Islamic Republic, which he called “the world’s No. 1 state exporter of terrorism.”

Iranian and Hezbollah officials on Thursday denied any role in the bombing. No group has claimed responsibility.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said his country was working closely with Israel and the United States to identify the bomber, whose remains were taken from the bus after the blast in the Bulgarian city of Burgas. But he cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

“It is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organization,” he said, according to Israeli news reports.

Israel finished airlifting most of its wounded tourists out of Burgas and back to Tel Aviv, where they are being treated in hospitals. Wednesday’s blast killed at least seven people and injured more than 30.

Officials now believe five of the dead were Israelis, one was a Bulgarian bus driver and the last was the bomber.

Bulgarian officials released a video showing a Caucasian male with long hair, dressed in short pants, tennis shoes, a baseball cap and sunglasses. He is shown loitering around the airport with a large black backpack.

Officials say the man was carrying a U.S. passport and a Michigan driver’s license, both of which were believed to be forged, according to Bulgaria’sSofia News Agency. ABC News aired a copy of the Michigan I.D., which bore the name Jacque Felipe Martin and the address of a Baton Rouge casino.

The Bulgarian government has consulted with the FBI legal attache based attheU.S. Embassy in Sofia, said a U.S. law enforcement official who was briefed Thursday on the agency’s involvement. It is unclear the extent of assistance the FBI was providing to the Bulgarian government.

One U.S. citizen had been at the scene of the bomb blast, the official said, but was not believed to have been injured or killed.

Citing unnamed police sources, Bulgarian news reports said Thursday evening that authorities suspect that the bomber was a Swedish citizen of Algerian and Finnish descent who they said was imprisoned by the U.S. in 2002 in Guantanamo Bay after being associated with Islamic terrorist groups. Bulgarian officials did not confirm the report.

The attack continued to draw expressions of support for Israel from around the world, and Israeli officials said they would seek a U.N. resolution condemning the bombing. President Obama called the strike “barbaric.”

During a news conference Thursday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the attack demonstrates why Iran should never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

“Everything should be done to prevent Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, from developing the world’s most dangerous weapons,” he said, again vowing to retaliate for the attack.

But Israel has not provided any evidence to support their claim that Hezbollah and Iran were responsible. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel has solid information, but he declined to elaborate.

Israel and Iran have been engaged in a shadow war for years.

Israel blames Iran for orchestrating bomb attacks against Israeli targets in India and Georgia and a failed plot in Thailand. Iran says Israel is behind the assassination of several of its top scientists working on the country’s nuclear program.

Israel has threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons if the U.S.-led campaign of economic sanctions and negotiations does not persuade the regime to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

Times staff writer Brian Bennett in Washington contributed to this report.