Two years on from the terrorist attack on Israelis at Bourgas Airport, justice is still pending
On July 18 2014, it is two years to the day since a terrorist bomb attack at Bulgaria’s Bourgas Airport killed five Israelis, a Bulgarian and the bearer of the bomb and left more than 30 people wounded.
It is also a year to the day since the unveiling of a monument to the victims of that terrorist outrage, found by a Bulgarian-led international investigation to have been the work of the military wing of Hezbollah.
That monument, and the declaration by the European Union of Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organisation, are among the few specific outcomes as the bringing to justice of those who targeted an Israeli tourist group on their way to a Bulgarian Black Sea summer holiday resort is still awaited.
Information has filtered out over the past two years, some through official announcements and the rest in local media reports that more than once have got it wrong.
Something is known about the names and faces of those that investigators found to have been involved in the terrorist attack, and that are now being – and for some time have been – sought to face court in Bulgaria.
Visiting Israel in May 2014, Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet, said that there was progress in the investigation into the attack but did not elaborate, the Jerusalem Times reported at the time.
A few weeks earlier, unconfirmed reports in the Bulgarian media said that the bearer of the bomb had been Algerian-born, had lived for some time in Morocco and had been trained in Hezbollah camps in southern Lebanon. He is said to have met two Lebanese men alleged to have been accomplices in the July 2012 Bourgas Airport terrorist attack while studying at university in Beirut.
Other reports at the time said that one of the key links in the investigation was a money trail from Hezbollah to cash withdrawals made from ATMs in Bulgaria by one of the alleged accomplices.
Interior minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said in April that the identity of the bearer of the bomb was known, but he declined to disclose it, saying that this was within the discretion of prosecutors.
Two months earlier, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said that a third accomplice had been identified.
Previously, two alleged accomplices were identified, said to be in Lebanon but, respectively, holders of Australian and Canadian passports.
The alleged suspects being sought at Meliad Farah, also known as Hussein Hussein, born on November 5 1980, an Australian citizen, and Hassan El Hajj Hassan, born on March 22 1988, a Canadian citizen.
Between June 28 and July 18, they were noted in the areas of Rousse, Varna and Nessebur, Sunny Beach and Ravda, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said.
Investigators suspect that the two checked into hotels and other places of accommodation using false identities: Brian Jeremiah James, Jacques Philippe Martin and Ralph William Rico. They also hired cars using these identities.
The individual who died in the bombing – it is not publicly known whether he detonated himself or whether the TNT he was carrying was detonated by remote control by another member of the group – is known publicly to have used false identification in the name of Jacques Philippe Martin.
In Bulgaria, the formal investigation is proceeding, with the timeframe for it extended to December 2014.
Prosecutors and investigators are, understandably, refusing to comment to the media on progress and details regarding the investigation. Nothing has been heard of what became of requests to Lebanon for the suspected accomplices to be handed over to Bulgaria for trial.
Anyone facing charges under the anti-terrorism provisions of Bulgaria’s Penal Code would, if found guilty, face from 15 years to life or life without parole. In the case of the terrorist attack in Bourgas, the charges would likely relate to all six deaths – the five Israeli citizens and the Bulgarian.
In the two years that have passed since the atrocity targeted against the Israelis, there have of course been other changes – on the security front.
After the terrorist attack, security measures for Israeli tourist groups were tightened considerably.
Separately, Bulgaria has proceeded with plans to set up an anti-terrorism centre under the State Agency for National Security. A report earlier this week by daily Sega said that the State Agency for National Security will be able to collect information about all individuals departing or arriving in Bulgaria, including their first, middle and last names, origin and destination, addresses, credit card numbers and reserved seat numbers. The data will be entered into the new anti-terrorism centre under the agency.
And so this year will see its ceremonies, on July 18 and again, on July 24 – the latter date because it is the anniversary on the equivalent date on the Jewish calendar.
All that is lacking is a court date, and among the unknowns is when – and if – that date will come.