Bulgaria sentences two Hezbollah suspects over 2012 bus bombing

The attack played a crucial role in a subsequent European Union decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist organisation.
Tuesday 22/09/2020
Two buses are exploded as investigators re-enact the July 2012 Burgas airport bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists near the town of Ihtiman in Bulgaria. (AFP)
Two buses are exploded as investigators re-enact the July 2012 Burgas airport bus bombing that killed five Israeli tourists near the town of Ihtiman in Bulgaria. (AFP)

SOFIA--A Bulgarian court on Monday sentenced two Lebanese men in absentia to life in prison over a deadly 2012 bus bomb attack on Israeli tourists at the country’s Burgas airport.

The attack in July 2012 killed five Israelis, including a pregnant woman, their Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber — a Franco-Lebanese national — as well as leaving more than 35 people injured.

It was the deadliest attack against Israelis abroad since 2004.

Firefighters and investigators walk around buses after a controlled explosion conducted near the town of Ihtiman, some 50km (31 miles) south of Sofia, April 26, 2013. (REUTERS)
Firefighters and investigators walk around buses after a controlled explosion conducted near the town of Ihtiman, some 50km (31 miles) south of Sofia, April 26, 2013. (REUTERS)

Bulgarian authorities blamed the bombing on the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia Hezbollah movement. The attack played a crucial role in a subsequent European Union decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist organisation.

Sofia’s Specialised Criminal Court sentenced the two men identified as the bomber’s accomplices to “life in jail without parole,” finding them guilty of complicity in an act of terrorism, manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, as well as for using fake identity documents.

– Hezbollah links  –

Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah, 31 at the time of the attack, and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 24, were charged in mid-2016 in absentia.

“The evidence… showed that the two defendants with Australian and Canadian passports are of Lebanese descent and linked to the radical wing of the Shia group Hezbollah,” the court concluded in a statement.

It also ruled that the two — who had fled Bulgaria and have not been tracked down so far — must pay damages to the families of those who died or were injured in the attack amounting to more than 100 million leva ($60 million).

A DNA analysis of the bomber’s remains found at the site identified him as 23-year-old Franco-Lebanese national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini.

Airport CCTV footage showed him wandering inside the airport’s arrivals hall with a backpack on his back shortly before the explosion that tore through a bus outside the terminal that was headed to Sunny Beach, a popular summer destination on the Black Sea.

According to witness accounts, he tried to put his backpack inside the luggage compartment of the bus full of Israelis when it exploded.

Prosecutors were unable to determine if the explosive was triggered by the bomber or remotely detonated by either Farah or Hassan, who had also helped him assemble the explosive device.

– Increasing isolation –

Prosecutor Evgeniya Shtarkelova told reporters after the verdict that the duo is still actively sought on an Interpol Red notice.

“This is the sentence that I expected, the one that the prosecution had sought… and that this type of crime deserves,” Shtarkelova said.

The investigation into the attack found that Farah and Hassan had arrived in Bulgaria from Romania in June 2012 and left again on the evening after the attack.

Shtarkelova said that the nature of the explosive device, the fake US driver’s licences used by the two men, their Lebanese descent and some family ties “link both defendants… and the attack to the terrorist organisation Hezbollah.”

Meliad Farah, an Australian citizen, is seen in this undated handout image provided by the Bulgarian interior ministry on July 25, 2013. (REUTERS)
Meliad Farah, an Australian citizen, is seen in this undated handout image provided by the Bulgarian interior ministry on July 25, 2013. (REUTERS)

The investigation found that the fake licences were made by the same printer at a university in Lebanon. It also said the suspects received money from people linked to Hezbollah.

In welcoming the court’s ruling, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat called on all European countries to take “adequate legal steps against this terrorist organization.”

Hezbollah is designated a terrorist organisation by many Arab countries and also by the United States, Germany and Britain.

Serbia and Lithuania earlier this year declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation in its entirety.

The European Union put the “armed wing” of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist after the Burgas attack. But the EU has been divided on listing Hezbollah as a whole as a terrorist organisation.

“There is no doubt that the dominoes are falling on Hezbollah’s European operations, where it has continued to plot terrorist attacks, procure military technology, and raise much needed funding,” said the US State Department in a statement.