BURGAS, Bulgaria: He looked like any other impatient tourist checking the arrivals board: a lanky, long-haired man in a baseball cap with his hands in the pockets of his shorts, a bulky backpack hanging from his shoulders.
Minutes later, authorities say, the man, filmed by security cameras at Burgas Airport on Wednesday, would board a bus filled with young Israeli tourists and blow himself up, killing six others too.
Officials originally reported eight dead, but this was incorrect.
Authorities yesterday looked for clues as to who he was, using his fingerprints, his DNA and his fake Michigan driving licence.
The victims included the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israelis, including a pregnant woman.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bombing “was carried out by Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran”. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast called the accusation “baseless”, saying it was aimed at diverting world attention from Israel’s role in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Israel has attributed a series of attacks on its citizens around the world in recent months to Iran and its Shia proxies, threatening to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies.
The attack occurred shortly after the Israelis boarded a bus outside the airport in Burgas.
Yesterday Bulgarian television aired security camera footage showing the suspected bomber wandering in and out of the terminal just before the blast.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the backpack contained the bomb, which detonated in the luggage compartment of the bus.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said a Michigan driving licence was retrieved, but US officials said there was “no such person in their database”.
Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab communities in the US.
Bulgarian TV aired footage of the licence showing the name of Jacque Felipe Martin with an address in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Tel Aviv carrying 154 people. Some of them told Israeli TV that they were just boarding the white bus in the airport parking lot for a ride to their hotel when the blast occurred.
A representative of the Ortanna tour company, which books tours from Israel, said about 10 000 Israelis had scheduled vacations in Bulgaria through the firm this summer and about half had cancelled after the attack.
A military plane carrying 33 Israelis injured in the bombing arrived in Israel yesterday. At least two critically injured Israelis were sent to Sofia for treatment, said Israeli military medical corps head Brigadier General Itzik Kreis.
A Bulgarian government plane was to fly home 100 other Israelis who were not wounded, but who wanted to cut short their vacation.
Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, relations with Israel have resembled a cold war, with both sides warily watching each other and dealing blows through proxies, but with little direct conflict.
That began to change more than two years ago with the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist, whose death Iran claimed was the work of Israeli hit squads. It was the first strike in what has become a suspected shadow war.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak described Hezbollah as the “director executors” and vowed that Israel “will do all it can to find those responsible”.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged the Israelis to show restraint until “the real perpetrators” were found.
Although Iran denies any role in the Bulgaria blast, Tehran claims that Israel’s Mossad spy agency was behind the slayings of at least five Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010, as well as other clandestine operations, such as planting powerful computer viruses.
Israel has not directly replied to the Iranian charges.