An Australian with connections to the Hezbollah militant group is one of the key suspects in a bombing that killed five Israelis and a local bus driver at an airport at a Black Sea resort last year, the Bulgarian Government announced overnight.
Releasing the results of its investigation into the July 18 bus bombing in the coastal town of Burgas, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said one of the suspects entered Bulgaria on an Australian passport, and another with one from Canada.
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Australian linked to deadly bus bombing
Australian with connections to the Hezbollah militant group a key suspect in a bombing that killed six people at a Black Sea resort last year.
All three people involved in the attack had fake US drivers licenses that had been printed in Lebanon, while the two travelling on Australian and Canadian passports had lived in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010 respectively, the Agence France-Presse news agency quoted Mr Tsvetanov as saying.
“We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah,” Mr Tsvetanov said. "There is data showing the financing and connection between Hezbollah and the two suspects.
No one has been arrested in connection with the attack, he said.
Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor told ABC radio on Wednesday that he was recently briefed about the terrorism allegations but would not say whether the government knew the identity of the Australian man accused of being involved.
''This is a very significant matter in Bulgaria and of course those matters must remain confined to intelligence agencies,'' he said.
''We will work, of course, with other governments and other agencies to do what we can in that area.''
Hezbollah has been part of Lebanon's government since 2010, and has both a political and a military wing. It is designated as a terrorist organisation by several countries, including Australia, the US, Israel, Canada and the UK and has been linked to several attacks on Israeli and Jewish interests around the world.
Backed financially and militarily by Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has in the past denied any involvement in the Bulgaria bombing and last night had not issued a response to the Bulgarian Government's statement.
Relations between Israel and Lebanon are already extremely tense, and last Thursday it was revealed that Israeli warplanes bombed what was believed to be a shipment of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles in transit from Syria into Hezbollah's hands in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a break from intensive negotiations with rival political parties aimed at forming a new coalition government in Israel to respond to the announcement.
“The Bulgarian findings announced today are clear: Hezbollah was directly responsible for the atrocity. There is only one Hezbollah. It is one organisation with one leadership,” Mr Netanyahu said.
“This is yet a further corroboration of what we have already known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror that is spanning countries and continents.”
The attack in Burgas was only one of a series of recent terrorist operations against civilians in Thailand, Kenya, Turkey, India, Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Georgia, Mr Netanyahu said.
“All this is happening in parallel to the deadly support given by Hezbollah and Iran to the murderous Assad regime in Syria.”
The European Union is facing sustained pressure, mostly from Israel and the United States, to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, and Mr Netanyahu used the Bulgarian announcement to reiterate his country's position.
“The attack in Burgas was an attack on European soil against a member country of the EU. We hope that the Europeans draw the necessary conclusions as to the true character of Hezbollah,” Mr Netanyahu said.
The spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs and security representative, said: “The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians.”
The developments underlined “the need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation,” the spokesperson said.
“The EU and Member States will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified by the investigators."
Six people – five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver – were killed, and more than 30 others were wounded, at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas when a bomb exploded on a bus that was taking them to their hotel.
The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city. One of the bombers was also killed in the attack, leading Israel to initially suggest that the attack was a suicide bombing.
However the Bulgarian investigation indicates a sophisticated, remote-control bomb was used in the attack.
Soon after the attack, Israel laid the blame on Hezbollah, with the then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman saying: “Hezbollah terrorists undertook this attack, aided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.”
He was backed by Mr Netanyahu, who said: “All signs point towards Iran. Over the last few months we have seen Iran's attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught.”
with Jonathan Swan