(JTA) — At least seven passengers reportedly were killed in an explosion on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in what is being described as a terrorist attack.
Israeli and Bulgarian outlets reported that as many as seven people were killed in the explosion Wednesday afternoon at Sarafovo Airport in Burgas, a city on the Black Sea Coast popular with Israeli tourists. At least 33 passengers have been rushed to the hospital, and nine are missing, reported the Bulgarian news agency Novinite.com. The explosion hit one of three tour buses carrying Israelis, Israel’s Channel 1 reported. Some 40 people are reported to have been on the bus, and several media outlets have described the passengers as "Israeli youth."
The explosion occurred while the bus, which was scheduled to take the Israeli tourists to their hotel, was still in the terminal. Some news reports said a suicide bomber boarded the bus as it was taking the Israeli tourists to the terminal. Others quoted Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov as saying that explosives were in the luggage area of the bus.
The explosion occurred on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead.
"All signs point to Iran," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "In just the past few months we’ve seen Iran try to target Israelis in Thailand, Indian, Georgia, Cyprus and more. The murderous Iranian terror continues to target innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react forcefully to it.”
The Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah denied that it was involved in the attack in a statement to the Interfax news agency.
"This is clearly a terrorist attack initiated probably by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or another group under the terror auspices of either Iran or other radical Islamic groups. We are in a continual fight against them. We are determined to identify who sent them, who perpetrated [the attack], and to settle the account,” Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
The White House condemned the attack. The United States "condemns such attacks on innocent people, especially children, in the strongest possible terms," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday afternoon. "The President’s thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed, and those injured, we also stand with the people of Israel and the people of Bulgaria in this difficult time," Carney said.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov condemned the attack and vowed to find the perpetrators. "Bulgaria will do everything in its power to clarify the causes of this terrible incident," he said.
"The Bulgarian government strongly condemns this aggression and terrorism," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said, according to the FOCUS News Agency. "Such a horrible act committed on the territory of a sovereign country, a member of the EU, is a provocation at the efforts of the democratic society towards world peace. I guarantee that we will investigate this incident so as to punish the perpetrators with the entire severeness of the law. I am convinced that the Bulgarian and the Israeli nations will get stronger and more united after this tragedy.”
The ZAKA Rescue and Recovery Organization told JTA that it hired a private jet to fly to Burgas. The plane, which is scheduled to land in Bulgaria at about 11 p.m. local time, is carrying seven volunteers, a doctor and a paramedic, as well as medical equipment and ZAKA equipment to help identify the Israelis that were killed.
In addition, the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, ordered the Home Front Command, the Israel Air Force and the Medical Corps to send a medical team to Bulgaria Wednesday night to provide medical care and to assist those injured as they return to Israel. The team is led by a senior IDF officer, and includes doctors specializing in trauma, orthopedics, intensive care, surgery, burns and pediatrics.
Novinite.com reported that Bulgarian authorities foiled a bomb attack in January on a charter bus for Israeli tourists heading from the Turkish border to a Bulgarian ski resort. A bomb was found on the bus.
Israel suspended all flights bound for Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Greece, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Azerbaijan following the attack, and flights headed from Bulgaria to Israel were delayed, according to Ynet.
The mayor of the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, home to nearly 5,000 Jews, ordered stepped up police patrols of areas linked to the Jewish community, according to reports.