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Bulgarian court jails duo for life in absentia over 2012 Burgas bus bombing

Judge finds alleged accomplices of bomber in airport attack that killed five Israelis and local bus driver guilty of terrorism, manslaughter

These headshots provided by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry shows Canadian citizen Hassan El Hajj Hassan, right, and Australian citizen Meliad Farah, also known as Hussein Hussein, left, both suspected of being involved in the July 2012 Burgas bombing. (courtesy Bulgarian Interior Ministry)
These headshots provided by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry shows Canadian citizen Hassan El Hajj Hassan, right, and Australian citizen Meliad Farah, also known as Hussein Hussein, left, both suspected of being involved in the July 2012 Burgas bombing. (courtesy Bulgarian Interior Ministry)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AFP) — A Bulgarian court on Monday sentenced two men to life in prison over a deadly 2012 bus bomb attack on Israeli tourists at the country’s Burgas airport.

The attack in July 2012 killed five Israelis, including a pregnant woman, and their Bulgarian bus driver, and left over 35 people injured.

A Franco-Lebanese man who carried the explosive was also killed.

It was the deadliest attack against Israelis abroad since 2004.

Bulgarian and Israeli authorities blamed the bombing on the Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah, playing a part in a subsequent European Union decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization.

Judge Adelina Ivanova sentenced the two men — who fled Bulgaria and were tried in absentia — to “life in jail without parole,” finding them guilty of terrorism and manslaughter.

The two were identified as Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah, 31 at the time of the attack, and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 24, and were charged in mid-2016 as the bomber’s accomplices.

A DNA analysis identified the bomber as 23-year-old Franco-Lebanese national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini.

This image taken from security video provided by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry on Thursday, July 19, 2012, purports to show the unidentified bomber, center, with long hair and wearing a baseball cap, at Burgas Airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. (photo credit: Bulgarian Interior Ministry/AP)
This image taken from security video provided by the Bulgarian Interior Ministry on July 19, 2012, purports to show the Burgas bomber, center, with long hair and wearing a baseball cap, at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria, on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. (photo credit: Bulgarian Interior Ministry/AP)

Airport CCTV footage showed him wandering inside the airport’s arrivals hall with a backpack on his back shortly before the explosion that tore through a bus outside the terminal that was headed to Sunny Beach, a popular summer destination on the Black Sea.

According to witness accounts, he tried to put his backpack inside the luggage compartment of the bus full of Israelis when it exploded.

The tourists who were killed were all in their twenties, except for a pregnant 42-year-old woman.

Prosecutors were unable to determine if the explosive was triggered by the bomber or remotely detonated by one of two men, who had also helped him to assemble the explosive device.

Hezbollah links

Prosecutor Evgenia Shtarkelova told reporters last week she “pleaded for the heaviest punishment because I consider that this terrorist act deserves to be punished in the heaviest possible way.”

The two men were put on trial in absentia in January 2018 for a terrorist attack and manslaughter but were never tracked down.

According to an investigation into the bombing, they arrived in Bulgaria from Romania in June 2012, and left again on the evening after the attack.

A public defender for Hassan, lawyer Zhanet Zhelyazkova, countered that evidence for her client’s alleged complicity with the attack was “only circumstantial.”

Shtarkelova however said that the nature of the explosive device, the fake US driver’s licenses used by the two men, their Lebanese descent and some family ties “link both defendants (…) and the attack to the terrorist organization Hezbollah.”

An Israeli emergency rescue team examines the remains of a bus bombed in Bulgaria in July, 2012, allegedly by Hezbollah (Dano Monkotovic/Flash90/JTA)

The investigation into the attack found that the fake licenses were made by the same printer at a university in Lebanon. It also said the suspects received money from people linked to Hezbollah.

In recent comments on the case, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev stressed that Hezbollah was behind the attack “in terms of logistics and financing.”

The prosecution confirmed that it had no clue about the two men’s whereabouts and that they are still sought on an Interpol red notice.

The court ruling is still subject to appeal to a higher court.

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