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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for a suicide attack in Bulgaria that killed Israeli tourists, and he threatened a forceful response.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast accused Israel of “delusive” accusations.
The blast yesterday at the airport in Burgas, a popular holiday spot on the Black Sea coast, occurred as the bus was preparing to leave the terminal. Five Israeli tourists, the Bulgarian bus driver and the attacker were killed, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry in Sofia said on its website today.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The U.S. has urged Israel to refrain from a threatened military attack on Iran to give time for negotiations and economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its European allies.
“All signs lead to Iran,” Netanyahu said in comments sent in a text message. “Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror.”
Mehmanparast accused Israel of charging “other countries with delusive accusations” and said Iran condemns all terrorist acts.
“While Iran is a credible suspect in the attack, the fact that Netanyahu is already holding it responsible is undoubtedly going to increase the tension between it and Israel, which is something the international community cannot ignore,” Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, said in a telephone interview.
Israeli analysts have said that a campaign of attacks may be a response to the killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years that Iran’s leaders have blamed on Israel.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the attack was carried out “by operatives of Hezbollah, who are sponsored by Iran.”
Netanyahu said that yesterday’s attack came on the 18th anniversary of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which Argentinian officials have accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah of carrying out.
Israel’s secret services warned their Bulgarian counterparts of a possible terrorist attack on Israeli tourists several weeks ago, Bulgaria on Air television reported, citing unidentified intelligence officials. Netanyahu said Iran had planned similar attacks earlier this year in India, Thailand, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and elsewhere.
The explosion was caused by a suicide bomber, Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said in a television broadcast from Burgas today. Surveillance cameras at the airport showed an unidentified man joining the tourists as they were coming out of the arrivals terminal, he said. A fake driver’s license from the state of Michigan in the U.S. was found among his remains, he said.
Bulgarian and Israeli secret service experts in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Central Intelligence Service are working together to establish his identity through DNA tests, Tsvetanov said.
Israel will file a complaint with the United Nations Security Council and will ask for sanctions on Iran, including a ban on travel abroad by holders of Iranian passports and a ban on Iranian airlines seeking to land at foreign airports, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel will use “all means” to find those behind the attack.
The bus on which the explosion took place was carrying 40 tourists, Bulgarian state radio reported. The blast, which also damaged nearby vehicles, happened about half an hour after a flight arrived from Tel Aviv, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said.
Bulgaria stepped up security measures at all hotels on the Black Sea with Israeli tourists, synagogues and the Israeli Embassy in Sofia, as well as in airports, bus and railway stations, the Interior Ministry said.
About 140,000 Israeli tourists visited Bulgaria last year, accounting for 10 percent of all tourists, according to Blagoi Ragin, head of the Hoteliers Association in Bulgaria.
To contact the reporters on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org; Elizabeth Konstantinova in Sofia at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com