Seven people were killed, and 30 injured — including three critically — by a bomb that exploded on a bus carrying an Israeli tour group from its plane to the terminal inside Bulgaria’s Burgas airport on Wednesday evening.
The Times of Israel updated this story live through to midnight Wednesday. Read how it developed below. Our main Wednesday news story is here. Full coverage of the story continues elsewhere on the site as usual.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Iran for the bombing, and vowed a firm response.
Israel TV reporting that the Israelis were split into four buses as they got off the plane. There were 40 in the bus that was bombed.
Shoshi Eiler, who was on the bus that was attacked, said the explosion was inside the vehicle. She spoke of “a terrible scene… lots of blood.”
Gal Malka, another passenger, said the authorities were slow to respond, and that the medical assistance they received initially was inadequate.
One of the dead is reported to be a local Bulgarian tour guide. The bus driver is also believed to have been a casualty.
Here’s the Netanyahu statement in full: “All the signs point to Iran. Just in the last few months, we saw Iran attempting to hurt Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Exactly 18 years after the infernal terror attack in the Jewish community center in Argentina, the murderous terror of the Iranians continues to hurt innocent people. This is a terrorist Iranian aggression revealing itself all over the world. Israel will respond forcefully to the Iranian terror.”
Ehud Ya’ari, Channel 2′s Arab affairs analyst, says Hezbollah has issued a statement denying responsibility for the blast. It will not be avenging the assassination of its military commander Imad Mughniyeh, in Damascus four years ago, by attacking Israelis civilians, it said.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Arthur Kohl, in Jerusalem says Israel is still awaiting official confirmation of the number of dead and injured.
People in urgent need of information can call the Foreign Ministry hotline in Jerusalem, on (972-2) 5303-155, Kohl said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the attack extremely grave and blamed Iran. He said Israel would know how to track down those responsible.
“Yossi,” an Israeli passenger who missed the plane by five minutes because he was caught in traffic, is being interviewed on TV. “My legs are still shaking,” he said. He said he had spoken with friends of his who did make the flight, and survived the bombing. He would not now be joining them, he said.
Danny Ayalon, deputy foreign minister: All the signs point to Iran. “We need sanctions on Iran” — not only because of its nuclear drive, but “because it is a terror state.” All its planes should be grounded, he says.
The local mayor in Bourgas is being quoted as saying the bomb was placed in the trunk of the bus, with the passengers’ suitcases.
In what Hebrew media is calling a Bulgarian effort to avoid blame, Bulgarian officials are now being quoted saying the bomb may have been hidden inside a suitcase. The notion is being derided by some in Jerusalem. Nitzan Nuriel, until recently the head of Israel’s counter-terrorism bureau, says it is not impossible for someone to have evaded security or bribed officials on the grounds to place a bomb-laden suitcase on one of the airport buses that are awaiting the planes from Israel ahead of time.
Security officials point out that Israeli security is responsible for the passengers while they are on the plane. When they descend, they become the security responsibility of the local authorities.
Nuriel says there were no specific warnings of terror plots in Bulgaria. He notes, however, that many Israelis go to the holiday resort at Bourgas, and that this makes it a potentially attractive target. “This was not a particularly sophisticated attack,” he says.
Security officials, following consultations in the wake of the blast, are warning of the possibility of further attacks on Israeli targets elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin.
The Foreign Ministry is now asking that only relatives of passengers who were on the charter flight to Bourgas this afternoon call its hotline for information, because the line is swamped.
Rumors of another terror attack on Israeli targets in Cyprus are false, it is being stressed here.
There are delays at Ben-Gurion Airport, unsurprisingly.
US President Barack Obama has been updated on the bombing. He regards this attack as grave, a White House spokesman says, and stands with the citizens of Israel and Bulgaria.
An Israeli tourism official on Army Radio says there is no security, as far as he knows, on the buses transporting passengers inside Bourgas Airport.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, says, “It’s far too early to conclude who was behind the bombing in Bulgaria today. We have to wait for the results of a full investigation before a credible conclusion can be made. For now all we can do is to assume which countries or groups could be responsible.
“Iran is one suspect due to a number of reasons, one being that today’s attack in Bulgaria has taken place exactly 18 years after the 18th of July 1994 AMIA bombings in Buenos Aires, which took the lives of more than 85 people, including many Israelis and Argentinean Jews .Investigations concluded that Iran was responsible for that attack.
“This is in addition to recent attempts to attack Israeli targets in
Thailand and Azerbaijan, and an almost successful attack in India.
Iran is also accused of being behind those attacks. However one can not rule out Al Qaeda. The organization has tried to target Israelis before, such as in Mombasa, Kenya in November 2002.
“For now all we have to go on are assumptions, and a list of credible suspects.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is reported to have named Hamas and Al-Qaeda as suspects in the attack.
Security concerns are complicating initial arrangements to fly home the Bulgarian injured, Army Radio says.
Here’s the full White House comment:
The White House condemned the attack “on innocent people, especially children, in the strongest possible terms.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama’s “thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured.” Carney added that the US stood with the Israeli people and the people of Bulgaria.
Two Israeli planes have been given the all-clear to land in Bulgaria later this evening with medical aid and assistance. The planes are set to leave from Ben-Gurion Airport in the next half-hour. Magen David Adom and Zaka rescue teams will be on board, along with officials from the Foreign Ministry.
A simply insane day for news. The most respected expert on Jewish law and religious practice, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, died a few hours ago at Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, and will be buried shortly. He was 102.
The world’s most wanted Nazi war criminal, Laszlo Csatary, was arrested.
And members of Bashar Assad’s inner circle were killed in a bombing in Damascus, a potentially decisive blow against the regime.
Chaim Taberdovich, a Chabad rabbi in Bourgas, has been visiting the injured in the hospitals. He says eyewitness describe the all-too-familiar terrible scenes of chaos and flying glass.
Israel’s Channel 10 now saying local investigators believe the bomb was indeed placed in the baggage hold of the bus, and may have been detonated by remote control.
Some passengers report having seen a man they thought was a suicide bomber — hence the early reports to that effect — but these accounts are not being deemed credible.
A first Israeli aid plane — a small plane — has just taken from Ben-Gurion for Bourgas.
This video apparently shows smoke rising at the airport in Bourgas following this afternoon’s bombing.
Apparently there were reported threats against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria back in January. And Iran also possibly hinted at hitting Bulgaria in February over the presence of US bases there. Bulgaria responded by vowing that no US bases would be used in a strike against Iran.
Bourgas is a hugely popular Israeli resort destination. Hundreds, if not thousands of Israelis are reported to be there. The Sunny Beach resort is one of the largest in Europe.
Levana Malka, in Israel, is speaking to her daughter Gal in a Bourgas hospital by phone, filmed by Channel 2. She sounds okay. “We’re sitting, waiting,” she says. The ambassador has been to see them. Gal says “there are 90 injured.”
Yisrael Hasson, today a Kadima Knesset member and a former Shin Bet official, says on Army Radio that it won’t take long to work out who was responsible, and no-one should rush to conclusions. “We have to keep calm, learn the lessons, and we’ll prevail,” he says.
Hasson says it’s impossible to safeguard two million Israelis on holiday every year. “But there are lessons to be learned,” he repeats, “and we’ll manage, as we have for 4,000 or 5,000 years.
We’ve known terrible terror attacks in Israel, he says, and we’ve always overcome.
He says it’s also too early to say whether there is a danger of more attacks. Take a deep breath, Hasson urges. Take some time. “And then we can judge the situation and how to handle it.”
Another intelligence chief, ex-Mossad head Danny Yatom, is also on Army Radio, stressing the “many successes” Israeli intelligence has achieved.
Latest casualty figures from the bombing: seven dead — six at the scene, and one in hospital. This comes from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, updated by his Bulgarian counterpart. At least two of the 27 injured are in serious condition.
No organization has yet taken responsibility for the terror attack. Hezbollah has denied responsibility.
Israeli officials are now speaking of a security failure at Bourgas airport, whereby the terrorists knew which buses the Israelis would be using, and either placed a bomb on board ahead of time, or managed to place a bomb inside a suitcase in the bus luggage hold.
Latest info: There were 47 people on the bus, most of them young, heading for the Sunny Beach resort. Along with the seven dead, three more people are in life-threatening condition, and another 30-plus are injured.
Security has been upgraded at Israel’s embassy in Bulgaria. Planes in and out of Ben-Gurion airport were delayed because of additional security procedures.
Channel 2 is reporting that the Israelis at Bourgas who were not hurt in the bombing were kept in the terminal for several hours amid the post-blast chaos.
Medical teams from Ichilov Hospital and Magen David Adom are flying out now to Bourgas.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is on Channel 2. He says Netanyahu is speaking to the Bulgarian prime minister now.
He says there were 150 people on the plane — almost all of them Israeli. There was also an American, an Italian and a Slovakian.
He says there is no possibility that the bomb was in a suitcase that came from Israel, as some Bulgarian reports have suggested.
Still Liberman: He says cooperation with the Bulgarians has been very close. Israel’s ambassador is at the terminal now, he says, with some Israelis who are still there. They are being placed in nearby hotels.
There was no specific warning of an attack in Bulgaria, he says. Lots of general warnings though.
Liberman says the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are responsible for the attack.
“Iran is a terror state,” says Liberman. He praises the Bulgarian authorities again for their response to the attack.
The EU has issued a condemnation. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, said:
“I was appalled to hear of this afternoon’s apparent terrorist attack on Israeli tourists arriving in Bulgaria. I am deeply shocked by the scenes at Bourgas airport, where what should have been the beginning of a happy holiday ended in murder. I send my condolences to the families of all those killed. Many more have been injured. We wish them a speedy recovery. The EU utterly condemns all acts of terrorism, wherever they take place. The terrorists who planned and carried out this attack must be brought to justice.”
Reports here now that Mossad officials met with Bulgarian intelligence a month ago, but they had no specific intelligence on terror threats to impart.
Channel 2 says Israelis were kept in the terminal for hours, while searches and security operations continued.
President Rosen Plevneliev is the source of the news on the recent talks between the Mossad and Bulgarian intelligence. As Liberman said on Channel 2, a series of recent terror attempts on Israeli targets were thwarted. Iran is relentlessly seeking to harm Israel and Israelis. This time, bitterly, the terrorists were not stopped.
This video shows ambulances and firefighters arriving at Bourgas airport, with Bulgarian officials sealing off the scene.
The Wiesenthal Center’s statement on the bombing says US must now include Israel in its global anti-terror forums:
The Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed its condolences to the families of Israelis murdered and maimed in a suicide bombing terrorist attack today at an airport in Bulgaria. “Tragically, there isn’t a day that Israelis do not have to grapple with the scourge of terrorism that emanate from multiple sources including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and al Qaeda affiliates,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper the founder and dean and associate dean of the leading Jewish Human Rights NGO.
“Today’s deadly attack, which took place on the 18th anniversary of the Iran-sponsored terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, must serve as a warning that the international community must never isolate Israel when it comes to the battle against global terrorism. The United States has a special obligation not to become an enabler of those who wish to make Israel a pariah state. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton should immediately and publicly reverse the terrible policy decision that allowed the exclusion of Israel from the Global Counter Terrorism Forum,” Hier and Cooper continued.
“America must lead the way in ensuring that no democracy, including Israel, ever be excluded from international deliberations designed to ensure the safety of all civilians from the scourge of global Terrorism,” Center officials concluded.
Channel 10 is also reporting that Israelis in Bourgas waited hours after the attack before they were allowed to leave the terminal.
Of those injured in the blast, 10 are said to be undergoing surgery in Bulgaria at present. Another 20 are less badly hurt, and the plan is for them to be flown home from early tomorrow for treatment.
Noah Gal-Gendler, a former Israeli ambassador to Bulgaria, says relations between the two countries are extremely good at present, “and this won’t change that.”
He says the Bulgarian authorities are horrified and in shock at the attack. “There’ll be no effort to dodge responsibility” for any security failures, he says.
The Israeli medical teams now en route to Bourgas will be vital, he says, and the Bulgarians will have “no ego difficulties” in accepting the experienced help of the Israelis.
A typical summer sees 70-90,000 Israelis at this and other Bulgarian Black Sea resorts, he says.
Today’s blast took place exactly 18 years after the Iranian-orchestrated bombing at the AMIA Jewish community offices in Buenos Aires. Four years earlier, Iran blew up the Israeli embassy in the Argentinian capital.
The embassy has issued a statement: “Today there was an explosive terror attack on a bus that was shuttling Israeli tourists on arrival at the airport in Bourgas, Bulgaria, which killed at least 7 and wounded dozens. The incident took place the same day that commemorates the eighteenth year of attack on the AMIA. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that ‘all clues lead to the responsibility of Iran in the bombing.’
“It should be noted that in recent months, there have been attacks against Israeli targets in Thailand, Georgia and India by agents of Iran. There were also recent attempts against Israelis by Iran in Kenya and Cyprus. In the case of the latter, a Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist was arrested on July 7 after gathering information about buses and planes that carried Israeli tourists.”
A Chabad official in Bourgas, Shmulik, says he is watching over the seven bodies at the airport terminal “and I won’t let anyone touch them” until the plane carrying the ZAKA medical rescue team arrives.
Some of the Israelis who were not hurt want to go on with their holidays, he says. Others want to go home.
He says he has just arranged for food from a kosher restaurant to be brought to Israelis still at the terminal.
Channel 2 says one of the seven dead is a Bulgarian.
The two Israelis Hercules transport planes with medical and other assistance are well on the way to Bourgas.
It’s 20 past midnight here in Israel, and we’re wrapping up this harrowing live blog. Normal coverage will continue elsewhere on the site, of course.
The aid planes are on their way; the dead bodies are being guarded; the injured are in surgery; the relatively unharmed are beginning to internalize what they went through.
After many terror attempts thwarted, today one succeeded, terribly. Israel will not panic, a series of its leaders said today. And it will track down the perpetrators and respond.
We should all know better times.