JERUSALEM/NICOSIA/BEIRUT: There are signs Hezbollah may have orchestrated a suicide bombing attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria this week, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.
“The attack does bear some of the hallmarks of Hezbollah but we’re not in a position to make any final determination on who was responsible,” press secretary George Little told reporters.
“The Bulgarians are investigating,” he added.
The bomb that ripped through a bus Wednesday at Burgas airport on the Black Sea killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounded more than 30, in the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004.
Cyprus police have applied to hold a young Lebanese man for a further week over allegations he was helping to plan the bomb, media on the island reported.
The 24-year-old, who holds a Swedish passport, was detained about a week before the attack.
He appeared at a closed-door hearing Friday and a court in the island’s second city Limassol will decide Monday whether he should remain in custody, reports said.
Cyprus police have refused to comment publicly on the case on grounds that it was a “sensitive political issue.”
“This is an issue of security which we take very seriously and we cannot comment any further,” a police spokesman told AFP last week.
But online news website Sigmalive said the suspect was arrested in a Limassol hotel room on July 7 after flying in from London.
Police suspect he was in Cyprus to track movements of Israeli tourists and find out when group tours arrived on the holiday island, it added.
Reports say his arrest followed a tipoff from foreign intelligence agencies, including Israel’s Mossad.
In TV interviews Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated that Lebanese militia were responsible for the suicide bomb.
“Hezbollah is behind the attack, it was part of a series of attacks,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 TV. “We know that Iran is behind it all. What we don’t know is who the actual man is.”
The U.S. intelligence community has a “high degree of confidence that this was carried out by Hezbollah,” presumably by a cell located in Bulgaria, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “This was researched and [the] target was prepped,” the official said.
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah told The Daily Star Friday that “the month of fasting has begun. We are fasting from food and talking. There will be no comments.”
Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah also did not respond to Israeli and U.S. allegations regarding the Bulgaria bombing in a speech Wednesday marking the sixth anniversary of the 2006 war with Israel.
Iran denied responsibility for the attack, which threatened to further escalate a shadow war with Israel over allegations that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons.
Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes only.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the accusation “baseless.”
Security camera footage from before the attack showed the suspected bomber wandering in and out of the airport terminal, wearing a baseball cap over long hair, a T-shirt and plaid shorts, with a bulky backpack.
Bulgarian prosecutors said the man had tried to rent a car in the days before the bombing but had been turned down because his ID appeared suspicious. Authorities have examined his fingerprints, his DNA and his fake Michigan driver’s license.
Afrodita Petrova, the owner of the car rental company, told Bulgarian National TV that the suspect had short dark hair when visiting the office. She said he was the same person from the video camera footage and appeared to be wearing a wig.
“He spoke English with an Arab accent,” she said.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber used 3 kilograms of trotile explosive (TNT) stored in a suitcase in the luggage compartment of the bus.
Israel and Bulgaria meanwhile held emotional funerals for the victims.
In the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, hundreds of mourners joined the family of Cochava Shriki, a 42-year-old woman who had recently become pregnant after years of fertility treatments.
“You were my baby sister, and ever since our mother died, I felt that I always had to protect you, to help you and to guide you,” her sister wailed. In nearby Petah Tikva, childhood friends Itzik Kolengi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 27, were buried.
Kolengi’s wife, Gilat, was wounded in the attack and remains hospitalized.
In the northern Israeli town of Acre, Maor Harush, 26, and his close friend Elior Price, 24, were laid to rest.
The victims’ coffins were received early Friday in a military ceremony at Israel’s international airport. Seventeen Israelis remain in hospitals.
Around 60 others escaped injury, with some opting to continue their holiday in the Black Sea resorts popular with Israelis.