Bulgarian authorities are on the trail of two men they believe to be linked to a deadly bombing attack that targeted a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the eastern Bulgarian city of Burgas this time last year.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Interior today released images of men they identified as Meliad Farah, an Australian national also known as Hussein Hussein, and Hassan el Hajj Hassan, a Canadian national. A statement accompanying the pictures from the ministry said the men are “suspected of having [a] link with the bombing” and said the pair was believed to be traveling in Bulgaria under false names like Brian Jeremiah Jameson, Jacque Felipe Martin and Ralph William Rico.
Five Israelis and one Bulgarian were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives aboard a bus in Burgas, a tourist hub on the Black Sea, on July 18, 2012. Top Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, immediately suspected Iran of directing the attack through the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. In February, Bulgaria’s then-interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said authorities found it was a “reasonable assumption” that two suspects they had identified in connection with the bombing - an Australian and a Canadian — were members of Hezbollah. Today’s statement made no mention of the Hezbollah connection.
The emerging details of the attack, which has been blamed on the militant Shia group Hezbollah, and other recent developments, have led experts to say it is evidence the Iranian-backed group has been increasing global operations, using operatives with dual citizenship who can travel with Western passports to target Israelis around the world.
Canada and the United States consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. After a long debate, the European Union agreed Monday to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on its terrorism blacklist.
“I think the Bulgarians did not want to release this information prior to the EU decision on banning the military wing [of Hezbollah] because they did not want to be seen as trying to overly influence that decision,” said Matthew Levitt, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who is a director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The suspects were seen in the three weeks before the July 18, 2012, attack, in towns around Burgas, Bulgarian officials allege, adding that the men rented cars and checked into hotels using the fake names Brian Jeremiah Jameson, Jacque Felipe Martin and Ralph William Rico.