Bulgarian media have reportedly identified the man responsible for blowing up the bus with Israeli tourists on Wednesday as Mehdi Ghezali, a jihadist who spent two years in Guantanamo. US officials responded there is “no evidence” that it was him.
Ghezali’s name was revealed by Times of Israel newspaper, who cited local Bulgarian media sources.
But later the story grew murkier, with ABC reporting that Bulgarian officials denied that Ghezali was behind the attack. Swedish agency TT says it has received similar refutals from security services in Stockholm. NBC later said that US officials also had no information linking Ghezali with the terrorist act.
None of the countries have issued an independently verified statement.
Previously, local police matched up airport CCTV footage with the remnants near the bus carrying Israeli tourists that was destroyed in the explosion. The likely suicide bomber was carrying a US driving license bearing the name Jacque Felipe Martin that authorities believe to be a forgery.
Mehdi Ghezali is a 33 year-old Islamist, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2001 and subsequently spent two years in detention in Guantanamo. When he was sent back to Sweden, the local government refused to press charges against him. He was arrested again by Pakistani authorities on the Afghanistan border in 2009, but once again set free upon extradition back to his homeland.
The suspect – a long-haired man in shorts wearing two rucksacks – looked no different than the thousands of other holidaymakers at the popular Black Sea resort. He roamed the airport for an hour, apparently waiting for the tourists arriving from Tel Aviv to go through customs before approaching their transfer bus and detonating his bomb.
Five Israelis, the Bulgarian driver and the bomber were instantly killed. Two more tourists remain in serious condition in the capital Sofia, while an Israeli military plane has flown around thirty others who were wounded back to Israel.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber had spent between four days and a week in the country.
”We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” said Tsvetanov.
Police have taken a DNA sample from the skin of the terrorist to see if it is listed in any international criminal databases.
The shadow war
Israel did not hesitate in naming the perpetrators of the attack.
“All signs point to Iran. This is an Iranian terror offensive that is spreading throughout the world,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The past year has seen attacks on Israeli embassies in Georgia, India and Kenya. Israel says that each time the investigation led back to Iran, Israel’s principal enemy.
“The direct executors are Hezbollah,” claimed Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The Lebanese Islamist organization enjoys ideological and financial ties with Tehran.
“Israel will do all it can to find those responsible and punish them, both those who carried it out directly and those who dispatched them,” promised Barak.
In response, Iranian TV branded the accusations “sensationalist” and “ridiculous.”
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said further investigations will be necessary before a definitive perpetrator of the attack is found.
“It is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organization,” stated Mladenov.