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

  • 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.


Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

Updated 26 November 2020

Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

COPENHAGEN: Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen broke down on Thursday when visiting a mink farmer who lost his herd following the government’s order this month to cull all 17 million mink in the country to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Frederiksen has faced opposition calls to resign and a vote of no confidence in parliament after an order by the government in early November, which it later admitted was illegal, to cull the country’s entire mink population.
The order was given after authorities found COVID-19 outbreaks at hundreds of mink farms, including a new strain of the virus, suspected of being able to compromise the efficacy of vaccines.
“We have two generations of really skilled mink farmers, father and son, who in a very, very short time have had their life’s work shattered,” Frederiksen told reporters after a meeting with a mink farmer and his son at their farm near Kolding in Western Denmark.
“It has been emotional for them, and... Sorry. It has for me too,” Frederiksen said with a wavering voice, pausing for breath in between words.
The move to cull Denmark’s entire mink population, one of the world’s biggest and highly valued for the quality of its fur, has left the government reeling after it admitted it did not have the legal basis to order the culling of healthy mink.
After a tumultuous couple of weeks since the order was given on Nov. 4, the Minister of Agriculture, Mogens Jensen, stepped down last week after an internal investigation revealed a flawed political process.
Denmark has proposed a ban on all mink breeding in the country until 2022. Tage Pedersen, head of the Danish mink breeders’ association, said this month the industry, which employs around 6,000 people and exports fur pelts worth $800 million annually, is finished.
Denmark’s opposition says the cull of healthy mink should not have been initiated before compensation plans were in place for the owners and workers at some 1,100 mink farms.