On July 18, 2012, the 18th anniversary of the Buenos Aires AMIA bombing, a bomb exploded as Israeli tourists boarded buses at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria. Five Israelis and one Bulgarian national were killed in the attack, which wounded dozens. While Israeli and American officials were able to link Hezbollah to the terror attack within days, Bulgarian authorities announced the same conclusion much later, on Feb. 5.
Since Bulgaria fingered Hezbollah in February, a number of new details regarding the investigation have emerged, but some questions still remain. Here is what we know.
Bulgarian authorities have focused on three primary suspects, one of whom died in the attack. One of the two living suspects had lived in Lebanon since 2006, while the other had been living there since 2010, where they may have been engineering students. The two living suspects are said to be Australian and Canadian nationals and are believed to be at large in Lebanon. The Canadian national was born in Lebanon, but moved to Canada at the age of eight. According to Canadian authorities, the suspect has not been a “habitual resident” of Canada since he was 12. The member of the cell who died in the attack was reportedly a relative of the Canadian national.
Prior to the attack, the three members of the cell flew from Beirut to Warsaw before arriving by train in Bulgaria on June 28. The suspects, who received money transfers from Hezbollah, are believed to have entered Europe on genuine passports. While in Bulgaria, the three used forged US driver’s licenses, however.
The Canadian national is said to have used a forged US driver’s license under the name of Ralph William Rico, while the Australian national used a fake license under the name of Brian Jameson. The member of the cell who died in the attack reportedly used a bogus US driver’s license under the name of Jacques Felipe Martin.
All of the driver’s licenses were forged by the same printer in Beirut, which is tied to a Hezbollah operative. The printer is reportedly also known to have produced forged documents for other Hezbollah members.
In the days leading up to the attack, there were an increasing number of phone calls between Burgas and Lebanon, according to Israeli intelligence. After the attack, the two remaining members of the cell fled to Romania over land, and then flew to Turkey before returning to Lebanon, where they are believed to be currently living.
Althought it is not clear which of the three primary suspects, if any, constructed the bomb used in the attack, the Australian national has been described as a “bombmaker of Lebanese descent” who “moved to Lebanon to join Hezbollah’s military wing.” Approximately 2.2 kilograms (4.9 pounds) of trotile equivalent was used for the bomb, which was likely remotely detonated and prepared locally.
Contrary to early reporting on the attack, investigators do not believe that the member of the cell killed in the attack intended to be a suicide bomber.
While it is clear that many questions regarding the attack have been answered, some questions remain:
- What are the names of the three primary suspects?
- When did the cell start planning for the operation?
- Where were the materials for the bomb obtained?
- Who built the bomb — one of the three primary suspects, or a member of a potential support cell?
- Did the cell have additional contacts in Bulgaria or elsewhere in Europe? If so, who were they?
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