Bulgaria court jails duo for life over 2012 Israeli bus bombing

Bulgaria court jails duo for life over 2012 Israeli bus bombing
Judges of Bulgaria’s specialized criminal court arrive for the final decision for the 2012 bomb attack on Israeli tourists at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport that killed five people on September 21, 2020 in Sofia. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2020

Bulgaria court jails duo for life over 2012 Israeli bus bombing

Bulgaria court jails duo for life over 2012 Israeli bus bombing
  • The attack in July 2012 killed five Israelis including a pregnant woman, the driver and the man who carried the explosive
  • It was the deadliest against Israelis abroad since 2004

SOFIA: 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.
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 Hezbollah, playing a part in a subsequent European Union decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing as a “terrorist” organization.
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.
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 licenses used by the two men, their Lebanese descent and some family ties “link both defendants (...) and the attack to the terrorist organization Hezbollah.”
The investigation into the attack found that the fake licenses were made by the same printer at a university in Lebanon. It also said the suspects received money from people linked to Hezbollah.
In recent comments on the case, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev stressed that Hezbollah 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.


Privacy fears grow over Singapore virus tracking

Privacy fears grow over Singapore virus tracking
Updated 3 min 5 sec ago

Privacy fears grow over Singapore virus tracking

Privacy fears grow over Singapore virus tracking
  • TraceTogether uses Bluetooth technology to approximate the user’s distance from other TraceTogether devices

SINGAPORE: Singapore has one of world’s most effective strategies in battling the coronavirus pandemic, but concerns are rising among rights advocates that this is coming at a price, with “unwarranted surveillance” through the government’s contact tracing mechanisms.

With slightly more than 59,100 reported virus infections, the densely populated city-state of nearly 6 million people has had only 29 coronavirus-related deaths.

The low infection and mortality rates have been attributed to the country’s advanced healthcare, rigorous implementation of virus precautions, and technology-powered contact tracing, which Singapore boasts as key to its success.

One of the main tracing mechanisms is TraceTogether, which uses Bluetooth technology to approximate the user’s distance from other TraceTogether devices. When two users are in close proximity, their devices exchange encrypted data that can be decoded by the Ministry of Health if a person tests positive for COVID-19 to trace anyone nearby who might have been exposed to the disease.

On the rollout of TraceTogether in March 2020, the government said the app’s decrypted data would be used only for contact tracing purposes. However, earlier this month, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office announced that if a serious criminal offense has been committed, police will be able to use the data as well. Authorities say that more than 70 percent of Singaporean citizens use the app.

“The government was unequivocal when it introduced the TraceTogether app last year that this was simply for contact tracing connected to public health measures. They basically lied to the Singaporean people,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News last week.

“This is a government with a long history of unwarranted surveillance of its citizens. There is serious concern about the invasion of privacy in Singapore. The people have the right to be worried about this,” he added, explaining that the government should firewall TraceTogether information from law enforcement officers.

“It should uphold the original promise made to the Singaporean people,” Robertson said.

For Singaporean citizens, using the app is supposedly voluntary, but in practice anyone entering a public venue — shopping malls, restaurants, clinics — must either have a TraceTogether app or token, or scan a QR code and register with their name and identity document number.

Migrant workers, however, are required to have the tracing app on their phones, after a surge of infections in April last year led the government to put their dormitories on lockdown, restricting the movement of almost 300,000 people.

Substandard conditions at the workers’ dorms resulted in them making up some 90 percent of all coronavirus cases in Singapore, according to HRW’s 2021 World Report released on Jan. 13.

“It’s discriminatory and it is not voluntary — if you want to leave the dormitories as migrant workers, you need to have that app,” Robertson said.

“Employers are being pressured by the government to make sure that all migrant workers have this app on their phone. Basically, people are being tracked.”

Prof. James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said that Singapore had developed the app because it needed a “very efficient tracing system.”

“Singapore is very strict and maintains strong surveillance of the population, so it is easy for them to do contact tracing and to isolate people, especially foreign workers, where they can control their movements,” Chin told Arab News.

“Of course, in the West, it would be difficult due to privacy concerns,” he said. “Privacy concern is not a big deal for the Singapore government.”