Bulgaria's Ministry of Interior today released the names and photos of two Hezbollah operatives tied to the Burgas terror attack in July 2012 that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian national. The Ministry of Interior said it was appealing to society for cooperation in locating the suspects.
The first Hezbollah operative identified by Bulgarian authorities is Meliad Farah (a.k.a. Hussein Hussein), an Australian national. Farah, who has been previously described as a "bombmaker of Lebanese descent," was born on Nov. 5, 1980.
The second operative identified by Bulgarian authorities is Hassan El Hajj Hassan, a Canadian national. Hassan was born on March 22, 1988. Hassan is reportedly related to the unnamed terrorist who died in the attack. Hassan was born in Lebanon, but moved to Canada at the age of eight. According to Canadian authorities, the suspect has not been a "habitual resident" of Canada since he was 12.
Between their arrival in Bulgaria on June 28 and the day of the attack in Burgas on July 18, both men were "spotted in the regions of Ruse, Varna, Nesebar, the "Sunny beach" resort and the village of Ravda," the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. The ministry further said that the men "registered themselves at hotels and accommodations, using fake identities under the name of Brian Jeremiah Jameson, Jacque Felipe Martin and Ralph William Rico. They are also believed to have rented cars using the mentioned fake identities."
Press reports had previously revealed that all of the driver's licenses were forged by the same printer in Beirut, which is tied to a Hezbollah operative. The printer is reportedly also known to have produced forged documents for other Hezbollah members.
While Bulgarian authorities did not say where they believe Hassan and Farah currently reside, reports have previously said that authorities are fairly certain the two suspects returned to southern Lebanon after the attack and remain there. For example, on July 23 the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, based on comments from a senior member of Israel's Foreign Ministry, "the men are hiding in southern Lebanon, and that Israel is searching for them."
Today's announcement from Bulgarian authorities comes just a couple of days after the European Union announced that it had reached a unanimous decision to designate the so-called military wing of Hezbollah as a terror organization. Hezbollah's role in the July 2012 Burgas terror attack and the recent conviction of Hezbollah operative Hossam Taleb Yaacoub in Cyprus are viewed as two of the key pieces of evidence that pushed forward the long-awaited designation. Hezbollah's continued involvement in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime is also seen as a reason for the move.
On July 23, the Israeli media revealed that during the investigation into the Burgas attack, Israeli authorities figured out that the bomb used in the Burgas attack was linked to bombs in Hezbollah terror plots in Nazareth and Thailand.
Bulgarian officials first charged that Hezbollah was behind the attack on Feb. 5, 2013. "We have followed their [the suspects] entire activities in Australia and Canada so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah. A reasonable assumption can be made that the two of them were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," Tsvetan Tsvetanov, then Interior Minister, said at the time.
The Burgas attack
On July 18, 2012, the 18th anniversary of the Buenos Aires AMIA bombing, a bomb (it is unclear if it was a suicide bomber) exploded as Israeli tourists boarded buses at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria. Five Israelis and one Bulgarian national were killed in the attack, which wounded dozens.
While Bulgaria's Interior Minister said that the bombing was "a deliberate attack," Israeli officials quickly pointed the finger at Iran and Hezbollah. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's soon declared: "I know based on absolutely rock-solid intelligence that this is Hezbollah and this is something that Iran knows about very, very well."
Iran's Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee countered by saying Israel had carried out the attack. "Such [a] terrorist operation could only be planned and carried out by the same regime whose short history is full of state terrorism operations and assassinations aimed at implicating others for narrow political gains," he claimed.
Despite Iranian allegations, American and Israeli officials were soon fairly certain that the attack had been carried out by Hezbollah with direction from Iran. "Israeli intelligence has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing ... with the volume intensifying in the three days leading up to it," the New York Times reported in early August. The numbers in Lebanon were tied to known Hezbollah operatives.