Bulgaria’s caretaker Prime Minister Marin Raykov has reiterated that his country will not initiate the procedure for the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organisation but will offer further evidence of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Bourgas Airport bombing and awaits EU consensus on the issue.
This emerged from reports of comments made by Raykov while at Nato headquarters in Brussels on March 27 2013 for a meeting with the alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
The terrorist bombing of a bus at Bourgas Airport in July 2012 left five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian dead, as well as the bearer of the bomb. In early 2013, Bulgaria announced that its investigation had established a link to operatives from Hezbollah’s military wing.
On March 16, Raykov told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that Bulgaria would not initiate the procedure for the EU to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. “We will only present the objective facts and circumstances and let our European partners decide”, he said at the time.
In Brussels on March 27, Raykov said that any other EU government could request that the bloc declare Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. None has yet done so.
Some EU countries were “not sufficiently convinced” by Bulgaria’s evidence, Raykov said, according to a report by news agency Reuters.
“For Bulgaria it is of key importance to have a common position, to have a consensus on this (within the EU,” Raykov told journalists.
“We will continue the investigation. We will continue to work on this very seriously, very actively. We will provide the needed evidence,” he said.
“But it’s not for Bulgaria to initiate the technical procedure for the listing [of Hezbollah]. I think that our partners will be able to do this once they reach a certain level of consensus on this issue,” he said.
In Europe, only the Netherlands lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, while the United Kingdom blacklists its military wing. UK foreign secretary William Hague reportedly had indicated that London would support listing Hezbollah as a whole as a terrorist organisation.
Soon after the Bourgas Airport terrorist bombing, it was noted that there appeared to be similarities with the case of a man arrested in Cyprus after Cypriot law enforcement authorities were tipped off by Israeli intelligence.
In a report on March 22, the European Jewish Press said that a Cyprus criminal court in Limassol had found a confessed Hezbollah member guilty of five terror-related charges, including participation in a criminal organization, acceptance and participation in committing a crime, and money laundering.
Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a 24- year-old Swedish-Lebanese citizen, was found guilty of helping to plan attacks on Israelis on the east Mediterranean island in a decision that, EJP said, would raise the pressure on the EU to add Hezbollah on the list of outlawed terrorist groups.
Forthcoming additional evidence that Hezbollah committed terrorism on EU soil in Bulgaria, coupled with the announcement that it sought to commit additional terrorism on another EU country, Cyprus, will make it increasingly difficult for the EU to avoid acknowledging that the organization is a terror group, EJP said.
The Cypriot court said there can be no “innocent explanation” of Yaacoub’s actions which he “should have logically known” were linked to a criminal act.
Yaacoub admitted in court to being a loyal Hezbollah member and that he was ordered by his shadowy handler in Lebanon — whom he only knew as Aiman — to collect information. The information included the arrival times of Israeli Arkia airlines flight IZ167 from Israel to Cyprus’ main airport as well as hotels in the coastal resorts where Israelis are known to stay.
Cyprus is a popular venue for Israeli tourists, especially those seeking civil marriages. He also recorded licence plate numbers of busses ferrying Arkia passengers from the airport.
He said he used his Swedish passport at the end of 2011 to go to Cyprus where he took photographs and made sketches of hospital and a police station and was told to look for Cypriot restaurants serving kosher food, but found none. Yaacoub said he handed all the information to Aiman on his return to Lebanon.
Yaacoub also admitted to acting as a courier for Hezbollah in France, the Netherlands and Turkey. He was arrested in July 2012 just days before the bus bombing in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian investigators are set to conduct an experimental reenactment next month of the Burgas bombing, while continuing to gather evidence in the case.
Earlier this month, during a visit to Brussels, Bulgaria’s then-foreign minister Nikolai Mladenov said that Europe “should take into very careful consideration what happened in Bourgas and come up with with a series of measures that protect us from similar attacks in the future.”
“We must prevent those who use Europe as a staging or a funding ground to support their operations to do that,” Mladenov said at the time.
During his recent visit to the EU, Israeli President Peres reiterated his call to Europe to blacklist Hezbollah.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomed the Cyprus verdict which, it said, “urgently requires a collective EU response.”
“Will Hezbollah now, at long last, be added to the EU terrorism list, where it so rightfully belongs, or will the EU continue to dither and delay, hiding behind one unconvincing pretext or another?,” asked AJC Executive Director David Harris, quoted by the EJP.
“Hezbollah’s first deadly attack against an EU member state took place 30 years ago, when 58 French soldiers were slain by a terrorist bomb in Beirut,” he stressed.
“Since then, Hezbollah has been using its operatives in European countries to recruit, fundraise, and plot to kill. How much more evidence does the EU need of Hezbollah’s true nature before it acts?”
In a statement, the US state department commended the government of Cyprus “for its professional investigation” and successful conviction in court today of Hezbollah operative Hossam Taleb Yaacoub on a range of charges involving his surveillance activities of Israeli tourist targets.”
“The verdict underscores the need for our European allies – and other governments around the world – to crack down on this deadly group and to send a strong message that Hezbollah can no longer operate with impunity, at home or abroad,” the US state department said.
(Main photo: Bulgarian Prime Minister Marin Raykov and European Council President Herman van Rompuy: mfa.bg)