Bulgaria Court Jails Duo for Life over 2012 Israeli Bus Bombing Blamed on Hizbullah
A Bulgarian court on Monday sentenced two men to life in prison over a deadly 2012 bus bomb attack on Israeli tourists at the country's Burgas airport blamed on Hizbullah.
The attack in July 2012 killed five Israelis including a pregnant woman, their Bulgarian bus driver and the Franco-Lebanese who carried the explosive, and left over 35 people injured.
It was the deadliest against Israelis abroad since 2004.
Bulgarian and Israeli authorities blamed the bombing on the Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbullah, playing a part in a subsequent European Union decision to blacklist Hizbullah's military wing as a "terrorist" organisation.
Judge Adelina Ivanova sentenced the two men -- who fled Bulgaria and were tried in absentia -- to "life in jail without parole", finding them guilty of terrorism and manslaughter.
The two were identified as Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah, 31 at the time of the attack, and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 24, and were charged in mid-2016 as the bomber's accomplices.
A DNA analysis identified the bomber as 23-year-old Franco-Lebanese national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini.
Airport CCTV footage showed him wandering inside the airport's arrivals hall with a backpack on his back shortly before the explosion that tore through a bus outside the terminal that was headed to Sunny Beach, a popular summer destination on the Black Sea.
According to witness accounts, he tried to put his backpack inside the luggage compartment of the bus full of Israelis when it exploded.
The tourists who were killed were all in their twenties, except for a pregnant 42-year-old woman.
Prosecutors were unable to determine if the explosive was triggered by the bomber or remotely detonated by one of two men, who had also helped him to assemble the explosive device.
- Hizbullah 'links' -
Prosecutor Evgenia Shtarkelova told reporters last week she "pleaded for the heaviest punishment because I consider that this terrorist act deserves to be punished in the heaviest possible way."
The two men were put on trial in absentia in January 2018 for a terrorist attack and manslaughter but were never tracked down.
According to an investigation into the bombing, they arrived in Bulgaria from Romania in June 2012, and left again on the evening after the attack.
A public defender for Hassan, lawyer Zhanet Zhelyazkova, countered that evidence for her client's alleged complicity with the attack was "only circumstantial."
Shtarkelova however said that the nature of the explosive device, the fake US driver's licences used by the two men, their Lebanese descent and some family ties "link both defendants (...) and the attack to the terrorist organisation Hizbullah."
The investigation into the attack found that the fake licences were made by the same printer at a university in Lebanon. It also said the suspects received money from people linked to Hizbullah.
In recent comments on the case, Bulgaria's chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev stressed that Hizbullah was behind the attack "in terms of logistics and financing".
The prosecution confirmed that it had no clue about the two men's whereabouts and that they are still sought on an Interpol red notice.
The court ruling is still subject to appeal to a higher court.