An Israeli Air Force plane carrying three Israelis seriously injured in Wednesday’s terror attack in Bulgaria landed in Israel Thursday evening. The three are still in life-threatening condition and were dispatched to local hospitals upon arrival.
IDF chief medical officer Brig.-Gen. Itzik Kreiss said one man was suffering from head injuries, one woman was suffering from injuries to her abdomen and lower chest, and another woman had burn wounds and internal injuries from the force of the blast.
The five Israeli fatalities from the attack were to arrive at Ben Gurion airport after midnight. A ceremony was being planned for their arrival, with Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov set to represent the government.
An airplane carrying 33 of the Israeli tourists who were wounded in the attack, at the Sarafovo airport in the Black Sea port of Burgas Wednesday, landed at Ben Gurion Airport Thursday afternoon and the injured were dispatched to hospitals nationwide for further treatment.
Kreiss, who was on the flight bringing home the casualties and oversaw the evacuation effort, told reporters at the airport that he had been ordered by Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz to bring the wounded home as soon as possible.
He said that the 33 injured were generally in better shape than he had expected and that most had suffered light or medium injuries. The incoming wounded were dispersed to the most appropriate hospitals, with some expected to be released home shortly.
Kreiss complimented the Bulgarian medical crews who treated the victims of the attack. “They saved lives,” said Kreiss. He also noted that there were no children among the wounded.
Some of the returning Israelis, however, were bitterly critical of the Bulgarian medical authorities. They said security and medical teams were very slow to arrive at the scene of the carnage. One woman said she had staunch her bleeding wounds with toilet paper; another used her own clothing.
“They didn’t give me so much as a paracetamol,” said one woman.
The returning Israelis described a horrific scene at the airport as the bomb was detonated. The blast reduced the bus to a mangled metal shell, and was so powerful as to heavily damage the other buses in the convoy taking the Israelis from the airport terminal to their hotels. One man broke both his legs leaping from the burning bus; another witness spoke of injured Israelis having to clamber over bodies to try to escape.
Kreiss and other members of the Israeli medical rescue teams, however, said the Bulgarians did their utmost within the heavy limitations of a country that had no experience in dealing with such attacks, and in a holiday resort with very limited medical facilities.
Israeli tourists in Burgas not directly affected by the bombing, including some who wanted to cut their visit short, were also being flown back Thursday.
A Foreign Ministry official said it had been fairly clear for some time who the fatalities were, and that their families had been constantly updated, but that the authorities were awaiting the completion of the formal identification process before publishing the names.
Israeli rescue teams in Bulgaria had begun evacuating the wounded from the resort town of Burgas Thursday morning, as reports indicated that the deadly attack on a bus of tourists was carried out by a male suicide bomber with a fake American passport.
The death toll in the bombing on the bus of Israelis at the airport in Burgas was put at six — five Israelis, one whom died overnight in the hospital, and the Bulgarian bus driver. Officials had earlier inaccurately reported a total of eight people — six Israelis, the bus driver and the suicide bomber — had died in the blast.
On Thursday afternoon, video surfaced on YouTube showing the seconds after the attack. Warning: graphic content.
The video shows the bus on fire as passengers and officials run frantically around the scene.
On Thursday morning, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said the attack was likely carried out by a suicide bomber who detonated as he boarded the bus. It was previously thought the bomb had been in a suitcase placed on the bus, or in the luggage hold or affixed to the vehicle.
The suicide bomber was reportedly carrying an American passport and a driver’s license from Michigan, both thought to be fake, the Sofia News Agency reported.
In a security video released by police, the Caucasian man is seen walking around the premises for at least an hour, dressed in sports attire, the agency reported.
“He looks like one of us,” Bulgaria’s interior minister said.
The American security agencies FBI and CIA joined the investigation into the attack, along with Israeli and Bulgarian officials.
Burgas is a very popular vacation spot among Israelis, especially teenagers. About 40 people were on the bus when the bomb ripped through it Wednesday afternoon.
A ZAKA rescue service spokesperson told Army Radio that the bodies were difficult to identify.
Other Israelis who had been on the flight along with the bombed passengers complained Thursday morning that they were held in the terminal for hours, without being allowed to return to Israel or enter Bulgaria.
“They aren’t organized,” one passenger told Israel Radio. “We just want to go to our hotel and have a rest and then return to Israel.”
Others caught in the attack, including some of whom were lightly wounded in a bus next to the one that was blown up, refused to leave the airport for their hotels or undergo treatment in Bulgaria, saying they would rather return home to be checked out.
Also Thursday morning, a number of vacationers in Burgas began returning to Israel as flights out of the Black Sea town resumed.
The returning vacationers were not caught in the bombing at the Burgas airport, but their scheduled return flights were delayed by the cancellation of commercial flights after the terror attack.