Lebanon News

Hezbollah faces EU wrath after Bulgaria accusation

A July 19, 2012, file photo shows the bus that was targeted in the deadly suicide attack.

BEIRUT/SOFIA: Prime Minister Najib Mikati vowed Lebanon’s government would cooperate with Sofia after Bulgaria said Tuesday it had unearthed evidence implicating two Hezbollah members in the July 2012 bombing that killed five Israeli tourists.

The accusation led to renewed calls on the EU to declare the Lebanese movement a “terrorist” organization.

If confirmed, the attack would mark the first operation carried out by Hezbollah in Europe.

Mikati said his Cabinet was “ready to cooperate with Bulgaria to uncover the circumstances” of the attack.

“Lebanon also reiterates its commitment to the security of Bulgaria and all members of the EU,” he added. “Lebanon trusts the Bulgarian authority in its investigation and is ready to cooperate to uncover the circumstances of the issue for the sake of justice.”

Hezbollah had not yet issued a statement responding to its alleged involvement in the attack when The Daily Star went to press.

The party’s media officer declined to comment on the matter, saying they were still looking into it.

“What we can make as a justified conclusion is that the two persons whose identity we have established belonged to the military wing of Hezbollah,” Bulgaria’s Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters.

He said they “had Canadian and Australian passports but have resided in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010.”

The investigation’s conclusions were based on three fake driver’s licenses that were used by the bomber and suspected accomplices. The licenses were made in Lebanon and purported to be from the U.S. state of Michigan.

“From these three fake personalities ... We traced their whole activity on the territories of Australia and Canada and we have data for funding and complicity with Hezbollah,” he added. DNA evidence extracted from the bomber, who perished in the attack and was going by the alias Jacques Felipe Martin, was used to confirm his identity.

The Obama administration said Hezbollah must be held accountable for the attack and urged Europe and other states to initiate an investigation.

“We call on our European partners, as well as other members of the international community, to take proactive action to uncover Hezbollah’s infrastructure and disrupt the group’s financing schemes and operational networks in order to prevent future attacks,” said John Brennan, a top national security adviser to President Barack Obama and forerunner to head the CIA.

Brennan said the results of the investigation show that Hezbollah is “a terrorist group that is willing to recklessly attack innocent men, women and children and poses a real and growing threat not only to Europe, but to the rest of the world.”

“Hezbollah’s dangerous and destabilizing activities threaten the safety and security of nations and citizens around the world,” the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon tweeted Tuesday.

Five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver were killed in the bus bombing at Bulgaria’s Burgas Airport, near the Black Sea. It is reportedly the deadliest attack on Israelis abroad since 2004 and also left 30 Israelis wounded.

Israel immediately blamed Iran and its “terrorist proxy” Hezbollah for the bombing, but Bulgarian investigators stopped short of blaming Iran. For its part, Tehran denied any involvement.

Israel and the United States have long pressed the EU to blacklist Hezbollah, and Tuesday both reiterated their stance, as did Canada.

Britain’s Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher said that some Hezbollah members are aware that terrorist acts are not in the party’s interests.

“Hope debate over responsibility will strengthen those in Hezbollah who know their interests are best served by rejecting terrorism,” Fletcher said in a tweet.

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu said the EU should draw out the “necessary conclusions about the true nature of Hezbollah” in light of the investigation.

“This is yet a further corroboration of what we have already known, that Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are orchestrating a worldwide campaign of terror that is spanning countries and continents,” he said.

Israel deployed a third Iron Dome missile defense battery to the north of the country, a few days after carrying out an airstrike inside Syria targeting a military complex, Israeli media reported Tuesday.

The missiles, which are able to shoot down attacks within a 70 kilometer range, are intended to be a precaution against potential attacks from Syria and Lebanon. Israel fears the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamic militants should President Bashar Assad fall in embattled Syria.

After the bombing in 2012 the EU rejected calls to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization because of a lack of consensus among its 27 members.

Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis of Cyprus, holder of the rotating EU presidency at the time, said Hezbollah had both a political and an armed wing and was “active in Lebanese politics.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday that member states would now “discuss the appropriate response,” saying that she “underlines the need for a reflection over the outcome of the investigation.”

“The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians,” she said in a statement.

Canada is taking “very seriously” the alleged involvement of a Canadian passport holder, Foreign Minister John Baird said.

“We urge the European Union and all partners who have not already done so to list Hezbollah as a terrorist entity and prosecute terrorist acts committed by this inhumane organization to the fullest possible extent,” he added.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov summoned the ambassadors of all Arab countries represented in Bulgaria to convey the results of the probe to their respective countries. He spoke later to his Lebanese counterpart Adnan Mansour.

“As part of the international efforts to combat terrorism and in relation to the fact that the attack was perpetrated on an EU member state, Bulgaria will present the results of the investigation to its European partners,” his office said.

“We will discuss with them concrete measures to contribute to the prevention of similar terrorist attacks in the future.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 06, 2013, on page 1.




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