Israelis bury 5 victims of Bulgaria attack
JERUSALEM (AP) — Devastated mourners grasped at dirt atop fresh graves and screamed in agony Friday as they buried the five Israeli victims of a bombing in Bulgaria — an attack that Israel has blamed on Iran and its proxy group Hezbollah.
Two days after the deadly blast in a popular vacation spot, investigators in Bulgaria and in several other countries were still struggling to confirm the attacker’s identity.
Bulgarian prosecutors said the attacker had short hair, not the long hair seen in the security video footage captured of him at the airport. A witness said he appeared to be wearing a wig.
The victims’ coffins were received early Friday in a military ceremony at Israel’s international airport. Seventeen Israelis remain in hospitals.
Childhood friends Itzik Kolengi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 27, were buried in the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva.
Kolengi’s wife, Gilat, was wounded in the attack and remains hospitalized. The couple has an infant daughter.
“I promise you that the family and I will watch forever over your wife, Gilat, and your amazing daughter, Noya, who looks exactly like you, and we’ll raise her just as you would have wanted,” Kolangi’s brother David said during his eulogy.
Menashe’s wife, who was also wounded in the attack, attended the funeral in a wheelchair. They too have an infant son.
Nearby, in 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.
In the northern Israeli town of Acre, Maor Harush, 26, and his close friend Elior Price, 24, were laid to rest. A third friend remains hospitalized in serious condition.
Israeli and American officials have blamed the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah for Wednesday’s bombing, which killed five vacationing Israelis, along with a Bulgarian bus driver and the attacker, in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas.
In TV interviews Friday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he was certain who carried it out.
“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.”
Iran denied responsibility for the attack, which threatened to further escalate a shadow war between the two countries over allegations that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes only.
Security camera footage from before the attack showed the suspected bomber wandering in and out of the terminal, wearing a baseball cap over long hair, a T-shirt and plaid shorts, with a bulky backpack.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told reporters the bomb was in the backpack and detonated in the luggage compartment of the bus. The bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four to seven days, he said.
He later said in an interview with state TV that the blast was caused by 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of TNT powder.
Bulgarian prosecutors said the man tried to rent a car in the days before the bombing but was turned down because his ID appeared suspicious. Authorities have examined his fingerprints, his DNA and his fake Michigan driver’s license.
They also said the man actually had short hair. It was not clear if he was wearing a wig, or if he had a haircut after the airport footage was taken.
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.
Tsvetanov said the investigation had ruled out that the bomber was a Bulgarian citizen, but did not say how authorities know that. He said the investigation had also ruled out that the bomber was Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen and former Guantanamo detainee whom authorities had previously fingered as the bomber.
“Now we are focused on finding out the identity of the suicide bomber and his possible whereabouts ahead of the blast,” Tsvetanov said.
Police and prosecutors refused to give any more information, saying it would compromise the ongoing investigation.
Israel has attributed a series of attacks on its citizens around the world in recent months to Iran and its proxies.
The Islamic militant group has not commented on the attack.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the accusation “baseless.”
A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Thursday night that Hezbollah was believed to be behind the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive intelligence issue.
However, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Friday the U.S. government has not established with certainty who was behind the attack.
“The attack does bear some of the hallmarks of Hezbollah, but we are not in a position to make any final determination,” Little said. He declined to say what aspect of the attack resembled the methods or other features of Hezbollah.
Israel has officially issued a complaint with the U.N. Security Council, accusing Iran of responsibility for the attack. Israeli representative Haim Waxman wrote the Security Council president that the attack in Bulgaria was part of an international terrorist campaign against Israelis and Jews worldwide, led by Iran and Hezbollah.