Two men sentenced in absentia to life in prison over 2012 Israeli bus bombing
Two men were sentenced by a Bulgarian court on Monday to life in prison over the deadly 2012 bus bomb attack on Israeli tourists at the country’s Burgas airport.
The July 2012 attack killed five Israelis including a pregnant woman, their Bulgarian bus driver and the Franco-Lebanese who carried the explosive, and left more than 35 people injured.
It was the deadliest attack against Israelis abroad since 2004.
Both Bulgarian and Israeli authorities blamed the bombing on the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, playing a part in a subsequent EU decision to blacklist Hezbollah’s military wing as a “terrorist” organisation.
Judge Adelina Ivanova sentenced the men – who fled Bulgaria and were tried in absentia – to “life in jail without parole,” finding them guilty of terrorism and manslaughter.
They were identified as Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah, 31 at the time of the attack and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El-Hajj Hassan, 25, and were charged in mid-2016 as the bomber’s accomplices.
The bomber – 23-year-old Franco-Lebanese Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini – was identified through DNA analysis.
Airport CCTV footage showed him wandering inside the airport’s arrivals hall with a backpack shortly before the explosion that tore through a bus outside the terminal.
According to witnesses, he tried to put his backpack inside the luggage compartment of the bus full of Israelis when it exploded.
All the tourists killed were in their twenties except for a pregnant 42-year-old woman.
Prosecutors were unable to determine if the explosive was detonated by the bomber or remotely by one of the two men, who had also helped him to assemble the explosive device.
The prosecutor 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.”
Both men were on 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 of 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.”
Prosecutor Shtarkelova said the nature of the device, the fake US driver’s licences, their Lebanese descent and some family ties “linked both defendants(…) and the attack to the terrorist organisation Hezbollah.”
The fake licenses were made by the same printer at a university in Lebanon, according to an investigation. It also said the suspects received money from people linked to Hezbollah.
Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev stressed Hezbollah was behind the attack “in terms of logistics and financing.”
The prosecution confirmed they had no clue where the two men are and they are still being sought on an Interpol red notice.
The court ruling is still subject to appeal to a higher court.
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.
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