Bulgarian court convicts two Hezbollah-linked men with 2012 Burgas bus bombing

Meliad Farah, a Lebanese-Australian, and Hassan el-Hajj, a Lebanese-Canadian, were convicted and sentenced today in absentia by a Bulgarian Special Criminal Court to life in prison for their roles in aiding a suicide bomber who blew up a bus at the Burgas Airport in 2012. The attack killed five Israeli tourists and their bus driver.

Prosecutors in the case charged that Farah and el-Hajj entered the country months before the assault using fake documents and provided explosives including logistical support to the bomber. Both were able to flee the country to an unknown destination.

The New York Times, quoting an unnamed American official after the bombing, said the strike was in retaliation for the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, for which Iran has blamed Israeli agents — an accusation that Israel has neither confirmed nor denied. “This was tit for tat,” said the American official.

The bomber, Mohamad Hassan el-Husseini, was captured on an airport security camera walking near one of the airport’s entrances carrying a large bag which investigators determined to have contained the bomb used in the offensive.

The prosecutor in the case, Evgenia Shtarkelova, said the men used forged identification cards printed in Lebanon and the attackers had family links to Hezbollah. Also, the bomb used in the assault contained ammonium nitrate which has previously been used by Hezbollah.

Although Hezbollah has denied being involved, the strike fits it modus operandi and that of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as both have carried out multiple acts of terrorism abroad for decades.

On Sept. 20, Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said it “foiled an attack” earlier this year orchestrated by the IRGC.

The investigation found that a group called the “Qassem Soleimani Brigade” — a moniker referring to the former IRGC Qods Force general killed by the U.S. in Iraq earlier this year — planned to attack public and security structures in the country. The plot was foiled when security forces located an explosive device in an area meant for visiting foreign delegations.

The conviction of Farah and el-Hajj is a bittersweet victory for the victims of the strike. The ruling recognizes el-Hajj’s and Farah’s complicity in the terror assault. However, due to the vast support network Hezbollah and the IRGC enjoy across Europe and the Middle East, it is unlikely the pair will ever be extradited to face their sentences in Bulgaria.

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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