The terrorists behind the Burgas attack that killed five Israelis over the summer planned to detonate their bomb remotely while the bus was en route to a hotel, Bulgaria’s interior minister said Wednesday, as details about the bombing continued to emerge.
Tsvetan Tsvetanov also described the three suspects’ way into and out of Bulgaria, fleeing to Lebanon via Turkey and Romania immediately after the attack, the New York Times reported.
On Tuesday, Bulgarian authorities released a long-sought report of their probe into the July 18 bombing, which killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver and injured 30 others. The report blamed Hezbollah for the attack and said the two surviving terrorists were now living in Lebanon, where the Shi’ite terror group is based.
On Wednesday, Tsvetanov said the attackers plan went awry when the bomb went off prematurely, killing one of the terrorists in the blast as Israeli tourists in the Black Sea resort town boarded the bus.
The minister told the New York Times that investigators believe the terrorists wanted to detonate the bomb using a remote device that can work from several miles away.
“This means that the bus could be easily blown up five to six kilometers away from the airport,” Tsvetanov told the paper. “Of course, in this case he made a mistake.”
Stanimir Florov, head of Bulgaria’s anti-terror unit, said Wednesday that had the bus blown up while full, there would have been many more victims and much of the evidence would have been destroyed.
Tsvetanov also said the bombers, one of whom holds an Australian passport and one of whom holds a Canadian passport, entered Bulgaria after flying from Beirut to Warsaw and then traveling by train over the border.
After the attack the two surviving members of the cell fled overland to Romania and from there flew to Turkey and then on to Lebanon. Tsvetanov said investigators found forged documents in the village of Tsar Kaloyan in northwest Bulgaria with DNA that linked the dead bomber to the fleeing suspects.
Florov said that the names of the suspects were known, they were now based in the same country and “we have asked Lebanese authorities to assist in our investigation.” He did not elaborate.
The identity of the bomber remains unknown even though his DNA samples have been shared with intelligence agencies in other nations, he said, adding that no DNA match has been found in their databases.
The report’s pointing to Hezbollah as behind in the bombing has sent shockwaves through Europe, which has thus far refused to recognize the group as a terror organization.
On Wednesday the president of France, seen as the most important holdout, signaled that Paris would consider revising its stance.
Francois Hollande told a delegation of the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations that France would study the probe’s findings and then consider the issue.
The EU has said it needs all 27 member states to sign on for Hezbollah to be labeled a terror group. Getting France, which shares close ties with Lebanon, on board would clear a major hurdle.
On Wednesday, EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters that the organization would “look into several options” regarding its response to the Burgas report. Including Hezbollah on the terror list “is one of them but not the only one.”
Germany has also said it may change its stance toward Hezbollah.
“Should the evidence that Hezbollah, indeed, is responsible for this despicable attack be substantiated, consequences will have to be drawn,” a spokesperson for Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.
Raphael Ahren and the Associated Press contributed to this report.