SOFIA (EJP)---Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov went on record Thursday to identify the attacker in the case of the deaths of Israeli tourists in Bulugaria’s Black Sea City of Burgas as a suicide bomber.
His statement came as it was reported that two more people had died overnight, bringing the total death toll to date to 8, with 37 wounded.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov confirmed the Bulgarian premier’s announcement and added that secret and special services in Bulgaria had not been pre-warned of any planned terrorist act in their country.
“The information we received in January about a possible attack on Israeli tourists in our winter resorts has nothing to do with what happened in Burgas. Our partnership is outstanding and no partner service has alerted us to any possible act,” he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak seemingly confirmed the official Bulgarian line, insisting that Israeli intelligence agency Mossad passes over any information it has in cases like this to the relevant authorities, adding that the absence of prior warning of an attack was a “problem”, rather than a “failure”.
Initial reports had suggested the bomb was planted in the luggage compartment of the bus transporting the tourists, however, further investigation by Bulgarian authorities, working together with the FBI, CIA and Israeli authorities, narrowed in on a white suspect with long hair and dressed in sporty clothing.
According to Bulgarian reports, the man was filmed by security cameras pacing the airport for an hour before the attack and his body sustained the least damage from the bomb, suggesting it was planted on him.
The FBI allegedly found US identification on the suspect’s body, claiming him as a Michigan resident, but apparently determined it not to be genuine, which Tsetanov confirmed Thursday.
One of the dead has been identified as a Bulgarian citizen, the 36 year-old driver of the bus transporting the Israeli tourists to the Sunny Beach resort, known only as “M.K”.
After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a statement holding Iran responsible for the attack, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov claimed Thursday that “it is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organisation”.
“We are only in the beginning of the investigation and it is wrong to jump to conclusions,” he said, adding that the Bulgarian authorities had “excellent cooperation with the Israeli security forces in matters pertaining to the investigation”.
Bulgaria is known to enjoy a good relationship with Israel and is considered one of its best friends within the EU, with the official website for the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism reporting that 138,613 Israeli tourists visited the country last year, an increase of more than 6% on the previous year.
Ministers were clear to distance themselves from terror associations, with Mladenov insisting Thursday that whilst the previous day’s attack was “a tragedy, it was absolutely horrible”, it was also “the first time something like this has ever happened in Bulgaria”.
“I want to assure everybody that we are a friendly country. This was a one-time event, and we want tourists to keep coming,” he continued. He added that by distancing themselves from Bulgaria, Israelis would be giving in to terrorism, saying “that is exactly what the terror organisations want – to drive a wedge between us and the Israeli tourists”.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev further emphasised that despite Wednesday’s attacks, “Bulgaria is not a dangerous destination for tourists.”
Earlier this month, Jewish former Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy participated in a delegation to Israel, where he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Passy, who has been hosted on official visits to Jerusalem by the last four Israeli presidents, stated during his trip that “Israeli foreign policy could be more aggressive, aggressive in the positive sense of the word”, adding that “Israel is part of Western civilisation and of the Euro-Atlantic political culture and (as such) shouldn’t be shy to vocally say that it wants to become a member of NATO and the EU”.
The openly-Jewish statesman served as Sofia’s top diplomat from 2001-2005 and said that whilst Israel cannot hope to join either body in the near future, “I very much believe that better integration and cooperation with Israel and with the Euro-Atlantic security, political and economic structures will be very much to the benefit of both sides.”
Last year, Borissov and Netanyahu signed a bilateral cooperation agreement in Sofia, which extended to a wide range of areas. Describing Bulgaria as a gateway to European markets, Netanyahu said it was his “personal mission” to introduce the Israeli business community to the Bulgarian market.
In subsequent discussions between Mladenov and his Israeli deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Mladenov pledged to support efforts to find a lasting solution to the Middle East conflict, with both officials describing Israeli-Bulgarian relations as very good.
The joint agreement signed by the country’s prime ministers stated that “the Government of Bulgaria reiterates its firm position against any attempt to de-legitimise Israel”.