Europe
3:01 am
Thu July 19, 2012

Israel Suspects Extremists In Bulgaria Attack

Originally published on Sun July 22, 2012 4:43 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's learn more, now, about an attack in Bulgaria. Seven people were killed, we're told, among them, five Israelis, in a suspected suicide bombing. It happened at a seaside resort town called Burgos. More than 30 more people were injured by this explosion. Israel is calling it a terrorist attack and says it suspects Iran or Muslim extremists. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us on the line, now, from Tel Aviv.

Hi, Lourdes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How much is certain about what happened here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what we're being told is that airport security cameras apparently caught images of the alleged attacker. It shows a young man milling around the airport for about an hour. He was wearing shorts, say the authorities, carrying a backpack, looking like any other tourist. He was around 36 years old.

You know, Burgos, where this attack happened, is a popular destination, especially during the summer, with the young Israeli package tourists. Apparently, a planeload had just arrived and were being put on buses to their hotels.

Now, the alleged attacker apparently joined one of the groups, put his bag in the trunk of the bus as if he was among them, and then apparently boarded it. The bus then exploded. Witnesses, you know, describe scenes of terror and chaos with people jumping out of the bus windows with flaming clothes and body parts strewn in the airport parking lot. They are now trying to discover the attacker's identity using DNA evidence. Bulgarian authorities say he was carrying a fake Michigan driver's license.

INSKEEP: Now, this attack comes after a series of other attacks, attempted attacks, thwarted attacks in a variety of other countries across Asia that were believed to be targeted at Israelis.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. You know, it's not clear what proof they have when they say that they believe Iran and its agents in Hezbollah are behind the attack, but certainly we've seen recent attempts to target Israelis abroad in Thailand, Georgia, India. Israel's defense minister Ehud Barak, today, again pointed the finger at Iran, saying Israel is facing, quote, "A global wave of terror sponsored by Iran and carried about by their Lebanese agents Hezbollah.

And while there wasn't a specific threat in Bulgaria, you know, Israelis have long held that arch foe Iran is trying to hit at Israeli targets on an international scale. And analysts say Iran is trying to retaliate for what it says it suspects is Israeli involvement in recent assassinations of its nuclear scientists.

You know, Israel has been very active in pushing the international community towards even more punishing sanctions on Iran in order to stop its suspect nuclear program. And so, basically, this could be tit for tat violence.

INSKEEP: How serious is Israel about retaliating for this attack, particularly given, as you said, that the actual identity of the bomber hasn't been found yet?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, certainly Israeli officials are talking tough. And Israel has a history of swift action in retaliation for any attacks on its civilian population. But the reality is, you know, the region right now, as you know, is in turmoil. We have a civil war in neighboring Syria. That affects Lebanon, where Hezbollah's based. A new political reality in Egypt, with an Islamist president, and loads of other issues.

And so any large scale action, analysts are saying, may not happen. But certainly Israel will want to find out exactly how this attack was executed, and it is promising to punish those responsible.

INSKEEP: Has this taken over the public discussion in Israel at the moment?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Absolutely. Whenever an attack like this happens it overtakes the airwaves. You have to understand that Israelis travel a lot and there's an ever-shrinking area where they can travel, simply because they have been targeted in so many places. Bulgaria is seen as a safe haven. This is the summer vacation. So many kids go on package tours to Bulgaria. And so it really has sent a shockwave through the Israeli community.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Thanks very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: She's in Tel Aviv.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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