The deputy leader of Hezbollah has attacked Israel for waging an “international campaign” against it after Bulgaria said the Lebanese group was behind a July bombing that killed five Israeli tourists.
After a months-long investigation, the Bulgarian government on Tuesday accused Hezbollah of orchestrating the attack, which targeted a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
Six people were killed, five of them Israeli, and dozens were wounded.
Naim Qassem, the group’s number two, criticized on Wednesday the “international campaign of intimidation waged by Israel against Hezbollah,” and said it is “ever improving its equipment and training” and that “these charges will change nothing.”
Qassem did not make specific reference to the bombing, which also killed one Bulgarian. These were his first comments since Bulgaria accused the group on Tuesday.
In remarks published by Lebanon’s National News Agency, Qassem said “there is a global attack led by Israel to confront the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine … targeting Hezbollah specifically because [Israeli] aggression has failed against Hezbollah.”
The Bulgarian government said two people using Canadian and Australian passports linked to Hezbollah were behind the July 18 bombing of a bus at the Black Sea Burgas airport.
Israel immediately blamed Iran and Hezbollah, but until this week Bulgarian investigators had stopped short of blaming anyone.
After the announcement, the White House and Israel called on Europe to take action against Hezbollah.
John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser to US President Barack Obama, urged European states to take “proactive action” to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure, financing and operational networks.
Binjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, said the Bulgarian finding that Hezbollah was behind the bombing should push the EU to draw the “necessary conclusions” about the group, hinting it should be placed on a terror watch list.
The US helped in the investigation at the request of the Bulgarian government.
Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, said the investigators found no direct links to Iran. In an interview to the Associated Press, Wainwright said forensic evidence, intelligence sources and patterns in past attacks all point to Hezbollah’s involvement in the blast.
“The Bulgarian authorities are making quite a strong assumption that this is the work of Hezbollah,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of the case – from the very strong, obvious links to Lebanon, from the modus operandi of the terrorist attack and from other intelligence that we see – I think that is a reasonable assumption.”
Wainwright said the bomb was detonated remotely using a circuit board that a Europol expert had analyzed.
Although it was initially believed to be a suicide bombing, he said investigators believe the bomber never intended to die.
Two counterfeit US driving licenses that were found near the bombing scene were traced back to Lebanon, where they were made, Wainwright said.
Europol, which helps to coordinate national police across the 27-nation European Union, which includes Bulgaria, sent several specialists to help investigate the attack.
(Agencies and Al Jazeera – www.aljazeera.com)