White House counterterror advisor in Israel to discuss Bulgaria bus bombing probe

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Obama’s top counterterrorism adviisor John Brennan visited Israel Wednesday, after traveling to Bulgaria earlier this week to confer on the investigation into the July 18 Burgas  bus bombing.

Brennan visited Israel July 25 “to consult with senior Israeli officials about a range of shared security concerns, including the recent wave of terrorist plots against Israeli and other interests,” NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement Wednesday.  Brennan also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said Tuesday after meeting with Brennan that Bulgarian authorities now believe the suspected suicide bomber in the Burgas bus bombing had been in the country for about a month, and had worked as part of a group with a high degree of discipline.

“These are extremely experienced people who observed absolute secrecy,” Borisov said at a press conference with Brennan July 24th, Agence France Press reported.

The July 18th attack, which targeted a bus of Israeli tourists who had arrived in the Black Sea resort town on a charter flight, killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver, and the suspected bomber.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel has rock-solid evidence the attack was perpetrated  by Hezbollah.

(Photo: US anti-terror adviser John Brennan (left) speaks during a joint press conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Sofia on July 24. The suicide bomber who killed six people in an attack on Israelis had accomplices and may have entered Bulgaria from Europe’s Schengen passport-free area, Borisov said Tuesday. AFP Photo/Tsvetelina Belutova)

 

Netanyahu: Bulgaria bus bombing “perpetrated by Hezbollah”


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Hezbollah carried out the July 18 Bulgaria bus bombing that killed seven people, including five Israelis, and wounded over 30.

“Yesterday’s attack in Bulgaria was perpetrated by Hezbollah, Iran’s leading terrorist proxy,” Netanyahu said at a news conference Thursday, according to a statement provided to Al-Monitor by the Israeli embassy. “This attack was part of a global campaign of terror carried out by Iran and Hezbollah.”

Netanyahu spoke as the bodies of five Israeli tourists killed in the attack were returned to Israel.

U.S. intelligence also assesses that the bus bombing was carried out by a Bulgaria-based Hezbollah cell, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior U.S. official. Continue reading

Former Mossad chief: “Better to wait” before accusing Iran in Bulgaria bus bombing

Former Israeli intelligence chief Danny Yatom said Thursday that while it’s logical to assume that Hezbollah or Iran were behind the July 18 Bulgaria bus bombing that killed seven people, assigning culpability should probably have waited until the evidence is solid.

“Usually it takes some time to locate those who were behind the bombing, and those who sent them,” the former Mossad chief told journalists on a call organized by The Israel Project Thursday.

“From the modus operandi used by some organizations, it’s logical to assume that Iran or Hezbollah or Hezbollah and/or Iran were behind this terror attack,” Yatom said. “As long as we don’t have solid information about it, it’s better to wait.”

“All signs point to Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday of the attack on the bus of Israeli tourists at Bourgas airport on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast, in which seven people, including five Israeli tourists and two Bulgarians, were killed, and 30 injured. “In the past months we saw Iranian attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Kenya and Cyprus. This is an Iranian terror offensive that is spreading throughout the world.”

Bulgarian authorities on Thursday released a video of the man suspected of being the bus bomber, and said that he was carrying a fake Michigan driver’s license. ABC News obtained a photo of the suspect’s fake Michigan driver’s license, which identifies the man as Jacque Felipe Martin, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, born in 1987.

US intelligence assesses that the suspect was a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria, the New York Times reported Thursday, citing an unnamed senior U.S. official. Continue reading

Obama pledges to help Israel bring bus bombers to justice

President Obama harshly condemned the bus bombing in Bulgaria Wednesday that killed Israeli tourists, and pledged U.S. assistance to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“I strongly condemn today’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria,” Obama said in a statement Wednesday.

The United States will “provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” Obama said, reaffirming America’s “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.”

“A bus carrying Israeli tourists exploded in a fireball on Wednesday outside an airport in the Bulgarian city of Burgas, killing at least four people” and wounding over 20, the New York Times reported.

Israel accused Iran of being behind the terrorist attack. “The indications are that Iran is behind this attack,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, said in Jerusalem.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the murder of Israeli tourists and said she was deeply shocked.

“I was appalled to hear of this afternoon’s apparent terrorist attack on Israeli tourists arriving in Bulgaria,” Ashton said in a statement. “I am deeply shocked by the scenes at Bourgas airport, where what should have been the beginning of a happy holiday ended in murder.”

Burgas, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, “has become popular as an inexpensive destination for groups of Israeli teenagers taking trips after finishing high school and before their military service,” the Times report said.

(Photo: A burnt bus is seen at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport July 18, 2012. At least four people were killed and over 20 injured by an explosion on a bus carrying Israeli tourists outside the airport of the Black Sea city of Burgas on Wednesday. The mayor of the city, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, said the bus was carrying Israeli tourists, but the police could not immediately confirm the nationality of the tourists. Police said several other buses at the site had been damaged.  REUTERS)

Former Syria envoy: Al-Qaeda working with Syrian security forces


Nawaf Fares, the Syrian ambassador to Iraq who defected last week, has told the Sunday Telegraph that recent bombings in Syria attributed to al-Qaeda were carried out with the cooperation of Syrian security forces:

“All these major explosions have been have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda through cooperation with the security forces,” he said. …

“Al-Qaeda would not carry out activities without knowledge of the regime,” he told the Sunday Telegraph’s Ruth Sherlock, in an interview July 13th. “The Syrian government would like to use al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip with the West – to say: ‘it is either them or us’.” […]

Fares’ position, first as a provincial governor, and then, since 2008, as Syria’s first envoy to Iraq in 26 years, would seem to have given him a unique vantage point for the claims. The US-led coalition forces in Iraq long asserted that Syria was actively facilitating the travel to Iraq of al-Qaeda linked militants through its territory. Continue reading

Some US Iran hands blindsided by report US may move to delist MEK

A report in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that the State Department may move to remove a controversial Iranian militant group known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) from a list of terrorist organizations has startled several people who work on Iran in and out of the U.S. government.

American officials said the issue almost never came up at a late April all-hands Iran conference that included the entire State Department Iran team of almost 40 people working in Washington and as Iran watchers abroad.

The timing of the report– some 10 days ahead of high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran due to be held in Baghdad May 23—also baffled some Iran watchers, leading one to wonder if “someone got to Clinton” –with an agenda to try to scuttle the talks.

But other Washington Iran hands and legal experts said the decision on whether to remove the MeK from the U.S. list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not appear to be imminent and noted there are still several moving parts.

“If this story is accurate – and I have no way to know if it is – then it should not have a significant impact on the upcoming talks in Baghdad simply because of the timing,” said Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran expert now with the Saban Center on the Middle East at the Brookings Institution.

U.S. lawyers this month told a court that a decision on whether to delist the MeK will be made within 60 days after their former paramilitary base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, has been vacated.

“Since there are still 1200 residents of the camp, it would appear that no decision will be made in the foreseeable future,” Maloney noted. “It has taken years to reduce the population from 3000 to 1200, and given the complex security and legal issues at stake for the individual residents, I can only presume it will take months or more to completely vacate the camp.” Continue reading