The Bulgarian government said today that the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was involved in the suicide bombing that targeted a bus full of Israelis in Bulgaria last summer and killed seven people.
Bulgaria's interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, revealed in a press conference that the months-long investigation into the bombing in the popular tourist destination Burgas on July 18, 2012 found that it was a "reasonable assumption" that two alleged conspirators in the attack -- one holding a Canadian passport and one holding an Australian passport -- were members of Hezbollah. The bombing claimed the lives of five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver as well as the bomber.
"We have followed their entire activities in Australia and Canada so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said on the Interior Ministry's website.
Tsvetanov said one of the men had lived in Lebanon since 2006 and the other since 2010. They used their genuine passports to travel in Europe and then used fake Michigan identification cards during a month-long stay in Bulgaria up until the bombing.
The investigation – which Bulgarian leader Boiko Borisov said early on was being conducted "in close cooperation with the Israelis and Americans" – apparently supports suspicions voiced almost immediately after the attack by both of those countries that Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, was to blame.
Within hours of the bombing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the killing was the latest in a "consistent pattern" of Iran-backed plots targeting Israelis around the globe. The next day, The New York Times reported that American officials agreed.
Iranian authorities "vehemently rejected" that accusation and instead claimed that Israel was likely behind the attack on its own citizens, Iran's semi-official Press TV reported in August 2012. Hezbollah also previously denied culpability for the bus bombing and denied to comment further to the AP today.
Tsvetanov said investigative requests have already been made in Lebanon and the other countries involved and within hours Bulgaria's announcement, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati reportedly said his country would cooperate fully.
In reaction to Bulgaria's findings, White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan called on Europe to disrupt Hezbollah's finances, infrastructure and operational network, the AP said. While the U.S. considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization, it is not so designated by the European Union.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters today the Burgas bombing was part of "a stepped-up terrorist campaign by Hezbollah, which has been waging around the world over the past year."
Nuland expressed the Obama administration's continued unhappiness over the fact that the European Union has not designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and said the group was "exploiting" that decision.
"Our concern is that in the context of our squeezing them, they look for other places to do their banking, to do their plotting, et cetera. And ..that Europe has been one of the places that they have exploited," she said. "Our hope and expectation is that this clear evidence of Hezbollah operation on European soil will be galvanizing to their internal conversations."
Hezbollah was one of the issues new Secretary of State John Kerry discussed with European Union High Commissioner Lady Catherine Ashton in a call today, Nuland said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.