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Attack on tour bus kills five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria

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Smoke can be seen coming from an explosion at Burgas Airport on July 18, 2012 [Burgasinfo.com photo]

UPDATED: Seven people were killed in a July 18 explosion on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, in what both Bulgarian and Israeli authorities have labelled a suicide bombing.

Among the dead were five Israeli travellers, a Bulgarian bus driver and the bomber, Israel’s Foreign Ministry reported.

Israel released the names of the five slain tourists, they were Maor Harush, 24, and Elior Price, 25, from Acre; Itzik Kolangi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, from Petah Tikva; and Kochava Shriki, 42, from Rishon Letzion. According to the Jerusalem Post, before boarding the flight to Bulgaria, Shriki received a call from her doctor with the good news that after many unsuccessful attempts, she was finally pregnant.

After the attack at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, a city on the Black Sea Coast popular with Israeli tourists, at least 27 passengers were rushed to hospital, the Bulgarian news agency Novinte.com reported.

The bomb blew up one of three tour buses carrying Israelis, Israel’s Channel 1 reported. Some 40 people were reported to have been on the bus. In all, some 150 Israeli tourists were part of the aborted Bulgarian tour.

The explosion occurred before the bus left the terminal, detonated by the bomber, who had been lurking near the bus posing as a U.S. citizen before finally boarding with the Israelis and then setting off his explosives.

The body suspected as belonging to the terrorist had a Michigan driver's licence, reportedly fake.

Initial news reports quoted Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov as saying that explosives were stored in the luggage area of the bus. That has since been disproven.

The explosion occurred on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish centre in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead in 1994.

In a statement soon after the event, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Iran for the attack.

 “Just in the last few months, we saw Iran attempting to hurt Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Exactly 18 years after the infernal terror attack on the Jewish community centre in Argentina, the murderous terror of the Iranians continues to hurt innocent people. This is a terrorist Iranian aggression revealing itself all over the world. Israel will respond forcefully to the Iranian terror,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli search and rescue teams were dispatched to Burgas, including a delegation from ZAKA, the Israeli rescue and recovery service.

Novinte.com reported that in January, Bulgarian authorities foiled a bomb attack on a charter bus for Israeli tourists heading from the Turkish border to a Bulgarian ski resort. A bomb was found on the bus.

Following this week’s bombing, two seriously wounded Israelis were still in a hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria. The rest of the injured, and the bodies, were flown back to Israel on July 19.

The dead have not yet been positively identified, the foreign ministry said.

The Israeli tourists who escaped injury were also flown back.

Israeli President Shimon Peres vowed Israel would “locate and act against terror all over the world,” as the wounded and dead arrived in Israel.

Brig.-Gen. Itzik Kreis, head of the Israeli Defence Forces medical corps, said the wounded returning to Israel were “less seriously hurt than we expected.”

Kreis said that victims “got very good medical care in Bulgaria.” He said injuries suffered in the bus bombing were similar to injuries caused by bus bombings in Israel.

“This was a bloody attack against civilians going on vacation. Many of them lost their lives. Others were wounded for no reason, for no purpose. They were attacked for the simple and unacceptable reason that they were Jewish or Israeli,” Peres said.

“We will not forget, we will not ignore and we will not give up. Israel will locate and act against terror all over the world. We have the capabilities for it and are committed to act. We have the ability to silence and incapacitate the terror organizations. Anywhere in the world where it is possible we shall build friendship and anywhere in the world where it is necessary we will chase murderous terrorists. We will uproot terror both near and far.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel has concrete information that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group carried out the attack.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry released video footage of the man identified as the suicide bomber.

The bomber was dressed like a tourist, Novinite.com reported. He had reportedly hung out for more than an hour near the buses slated to take the Israeli tourists to their hotel.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said Bulgarian officials had received no warning of an imminent attack on Israeli or Jewish targets.

In a July 19 statement, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird sent condolences to the victims of the attack. It’s a “sad reminder of the need to remain vigilant against antisemitic violence, which can strike anywhere around the world,” he said.

“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer our sincere condolences to those who lost loved ones in the deadly explosion. I wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured. Canada condemns such heinous acts without reservation and is confident that Bulgarian authorities will do all they can to ensure the perpetrators of this attack are brought to justice,” Baird said.

Canada’s Jewish community also expressed condolences.

In a statement, David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) offered support and prayers to the families of the victims in what he termed a “brazen attack.”

With this attack and the AMIA bombing, “combined with the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, it is clear that the one constant of terrorism is that Jews around the world remain a favoured target. We are hopeful that authorities will be successful in their pursuit of those responsible for today’s attack, and demonstrate that terrorists and their overseers will face justice – not impunity – for such atrocities,” Koschitzky said.

Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Canada, also sent his sympathies to the families of the victims.

“Our prayers are with the loved ones of those who were murdered, as are our hopes for a complete recovery for the injured,” he said in a statement.

“We are alarmed and distressed by the targeting of Jews around the world by terrorists who continue to demonstrate a complete lack of empathy in their indiscriminate antisemitic blood lust."

With files from Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf and Ha’aretz.

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