Three men of Lebanese origin carrying Western passports traveled from Beirut to Warsaw, Poland, and then took the train to Sofia, Bulgaria. On July 18, 2012, one of them, who was carrying a backpack full of explosives, blew up a bus in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Burgas, killing five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian driver. His two accomplices then ran away to Romania, took a plane to Turkey and then back to Lebanon. All three of them were Hezbollah members.
This is the story of the Burgas bomb attack that the Bulgarian minister of interior, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, told journalists after the six-month investigation wrapped up three days ago. The conclusion of the investigation brought the possibility of putting Hezbollah on the European Council’s terror organization list. However, the EU countries are not all convinced that Hezbollah is indeed a terror threat and are hesitant to blacklist it, in spite of the evidence.
Tsvetanov made detailed statements regarding proof prosecutors gathered during the investigation. He pointed out that bomb the dead perpetrator was carrying was detonated from a distance, which proves that it wasn’t meant to be a suicide attack. The Bulgarian authorities also found a fake driver’s license and social security card in the town of Tsar Kaloyan, a few kilometers away from the border crossing with Romania. The evidence was carrying the DNA of the dead bomber. According to Tsvetanov, the two fugitives had Canadian and Australian passports, but lived in Lebanon since 2006 and 2010, respectively.
“We have information that at least two people are Hezbollah members, including the perpetrator,” Tsvetanov said. “The identity of the two people has been established, and we can conclude they belong to Hezbollah’s military wing.”
However, Brussels still has doubts. The EU’s head of diplomacy Catherine Ashton said that the matter needs more reflection. “The EU and member states will discuss the appropriate response based on all elements identified,” she said.
The EU's top counter-terrorism official, Gilles de Kerchove, stated that the decision to put an organization on the terror list is not automatic, but political. "For Hezbollah, you might ask, given the situation in Lebanon – which is a highly fragile, highly fragmented country – is listing it going to help you achieve what you want?” he said. “There is no automatic listing just because you have been behind a terrorist attack. It's not only the legal requirement that you have to take into consideration; it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing.”
There seems to be no consensus among the EU member countries on the issue.
Benjamin Weinthal, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has been following the investigation in Bulgaria, told NOW from Sofia that many strong countries in the EU are hesitant to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization, in spite of the evidence. “This is obviously the right moment to do this. There is proof that the Bulgarian investigation uncovered, and Hezbollah is weak now due to the deteriorating situation in Syria,” he said. “But it is hard to have consensus among the 27 EU members. Most diplomats I’ve spoken to are skeptical. There are many competing interests on whether to blacklist Hezbollah or not.”
Among the most hesitant is France. French President Francois Hollande stated that his country would study the evidence assembled by Bulgarian investigators before making a decision. “The French are proceeding with caution because of the French-Lebanese diplomatic relations. They fear that blacklisting the Party of God, which is the kingmaker in Lebanon, might prevent them from engaging the Lebanese government,” Weinthal said.
Germany is also cautious. It has a large community of Hezbollah supporters that has grown considerably during the past decade. German media reported in 2007 that 900 Hezbollah activists were in the country and regularly meet in 30 cultural community centers and mosques. These activists financially supported Hezbollah in Lebanon through fund-raising organizations, such as the "Orphans Project Lebanon Association.” “The German government tolerated this presence and the fundraising activities in exchange for keeping things quiet,” Weinthal said.
Sweden also hosts a strong community of Hezbollah supporters and has also not made a decision on the matter. Several rallies organized by the party’s supporters had quite a considerable turnout in the country, and they were supported by the Swedish opposition. In addition, in the last year two Lebanese-Swedish men were arrested in separate instances for trying to plan attacks on Israelis in Bangkok and Cyprus.
Hezbollah has done fundraising in other EU countries such as Denmark.
There are voices in Bulgaria opposed to blacklisting Hezbollah. Some of the leaders of the nationalist opposition warned the government that it is “playing a dangerous game” with the party.
“There is obviously a lot of anxiety among the European countries. As well, many of them perceive the attack in Burgas as an Israeli affair, although this happened on the EU soil and a EU citizen, a Bulgarian Muslim, also died in the attack,” Weinthal told NOW.
Read this article in Arabic