around the world as further acts of Iranian retaliation for the presumed Israeli assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Bulgarian bombing “was carried out by Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran.” Israeli President Shimon Peres, who commonly avoids heated rhetoric, said Iran is now in an “open war” with Israel.
Iran denied involvement in the Bulgarian bombing, but the general assumption around the world was that this was an Iranian scheme. There was no firm evidence yet, however, of any Iranian role. The Bulgarians said they were still investigating and did not yet even know who the bomber was.
“Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror,” Netanyahu said. “In the past few months we have seen attempts by Iran to harm Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other places,” referring to a string of attempted attacks that many link to Iran.
“Iran’s position is to condemn all terrorist acts in the world,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast. “The Islamic Republic, the biggest victim of terrorism, believes terrorism endangers the lives of innocents,Ö is inhumane and so strongly condemns it.”
Mehman-Parast also counter-attacked, as is his norm: “The Zionist regime, which is responsible for terrorist acts organized in Lebanon, Palestine and against Iranian nuclear scientists,… is launching baseless accusations against other countries to hide its own terror-ist nature.”
The Bulgaria attack was carried out as a large number of Israeli tourists boarded a bus after deplaning in the Black Sea resort of Burgas, popular with Israeli tourists, particularly high school graduates who vacation there before being drafted into the military. The blast gutted one bus and set fire to two nearby buses. The Bulgarian bus driver was killed along with five Israelis, none of whom was awaiting draft service.
The bombing came on the 18th anniversary of an attack on the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1994 that killed 85 people and wounded 300. Argentina has said the Islamic Republic organized that bombing through its embassy in Buenos Aires.
Bulgarian television aired security camera footage showing the suspect walking in and out of the airport terminal and dressed as a tourist, wearing a T-shirt, plaid shorts, a baseball cap and sneakers with low white socks. Prosecutor Kalina Chapkanova said the suspect was using a fake Michigan driver’s license issued to Felipe Martin with an address in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. US states do not issue driver’s licenses to out of state addresses. The Baton Rouge address belongs to a casino.
One possible motivation for targeting Israeli tourists in Bulgaria is that the country’s law enforcement has little anti-terrorism experience. ”It could have happened anywhere in the world, [but] Bulgaria is particularly vulnerable as the police have no anti-terrorism experience,” Anthony Georgia, a Bulgarian journalist and the author of a book on Jewish Bulgaria, told the Christian Science Monitor.
The country has a Jewish population of only 5,000, and anti-Semitism is largely unheard of. Bulgaria is a popular tourist destination for Israelis, about 100,000 of whom visited the country last year.
Israeli intelligence chiefs told the cabinet that Iran and its ally Hezbollah were looking widely for targets.
“Iran and Hezbollah made preparations to carry out attacks in more than 20 countries around the world over the past two years,” a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said, referring to a cabinet briefing from Mossad external security chief Tamir Pardo and Shin Bet internal security chief Yoram Cohen.
“It is very important to be able to prove to the world that Iran and Hezbollah are behind this wave of attacks on every continent,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
One such attack attributed to Iran occurred in New Delhi, India, where a court last week allowed police to detain Indian journalist Syed Muhammad Kazmi for 90 more days. Kazmi, who has worked for Iranian media, was arrested for his involvement in an attack earlier this year that resulted in the injury of the wife the Israeli defense attachÈ.
Indian police said they were collecting evidence against an Iranian citizen, Houshang Afshar Irani, suspected of executing the attack. Irani was in contact with Kazmi, who was in turn connected with suspects involved in attempted attacks in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and the Thai capital of Bangkok, according to Indian police.
“[The links of] the conspiracy were not confined to the Indian territory, but these were found spreading abroad,” the Delhi chief of police told reporters.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, two middle-aged Iranians arrested with 15 kilograms of high explosives, went on trial Monday in Nairobi. Police said that before they were arrested they were followed as they cased the Israeli embassy and other sites in Kenya.
One of the Iranians told the court he had been interrogated by Israeli intelligence agents after his arrest. The police told the court that was false and no foreigners had been given access to the men.