By Alina Dain Sharon and Jacob Kamaras / JNS.org
A suicide bomber with fake U.S. identification exploded a bus full of Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian city of Burgas on Wednesday, July 18 killing five Israelis and injuring more than 30.
The Israeli Interior Ministry identified the victims as Itzik Colangi, 28, Amir Menashe, 28, Maor Harosh, 25, Elior Price, 26, and Kochava Shriki, 44. Their bodies arrived in Israel on Friday morning.
A senior U.S. official told the New York Times that the bomber was “acting under broad guidance” from Iran-funded Hezbollah to strike Israeli targets abroad, corresponding with initial statements on the perpetrator by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bulgarian media reports named 36-year-old Mehdi Ghezali—a Swedish citizen of Algerian descent, former Guantanamo Bay detainee, and suspected al-Qaeda agent—as the bomber, but both Bulgarian and Swedish officials have denied those reports.
Immediately after the attack, rescue organizations flocked to Bulgaria in order to bring the injured Israelis back home.
“Our goal was to bring the injured back home as quickly as possible. And we did everything we could from the moment we were notified of the event to achieve this,” Eli Bin, the director-general of Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s affiliate to the International Red Cross, said in a phone interview with JNS.org.
In coordination with the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli foreign and health ministries, MDA “enlisted paramedics and doctors, and immediately brought them to Bulgaria.”
The bomber’s explosives were placed in the back of the bus, said Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov, and witness Gal Malka said that she saw someone board the bus right before the explosion, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Bin told JNS.org that MDA was able to contact the Bulgarian Red Cross for the permission to operate in Bulgaria and treat the injured.
“When we got to the location,” Bin said, “there were tens of Israelis in the airport terminal, many of whom were terrified. We did everything we could to calm them. We spoke to them and met people who needed to be medicated. Shortly afterward we went to the hospital in Burgas, where about 34 injured people were hospitalized in various conditions.”
Some of the hospitalized victims suffered limb injuries such as fractures, injuries from glass particles that flew when the bus windows were shattered, and wounds from other explosion materials, Bin said. “We recognized that many of the Israelis there suffered from shock, and these are injuries that may not look serious at first, but become more serious later,” he said.
In addition to the six Israeli who were killed, the Bulgarian bus driver and the suicide bomber died in the attack. The Jewish Agency for Israel’s (JAFI) Fund for the Victims of Terror will provide financial assistance to the wounded Israelis and the families of those killed, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA)—which contributes to that fund—announced Thursday.
Kathy Manning, chair of the JFNA board of trustees, said in a statement that the umbrella organization stands “shoulder to shoulder with all of the Jewish People in condemning this horrific act of violence.”
Barry Spielman, JAFI’s director of communications for North America, told JNS.org that the organization’s fund for terror victims provides assistance “beyond what [victims are] going to get from the [Israeli] government].” This includes funding for needs such as medical equipment, furniture and rent, as well as “mental support” entailing visits by fund representatives to the homes of mourners and the hospitals where injured victims are staying.
Before the Bulgaria attack, the fund was most recently used to aid victims of Palestinian Qassam rocket attacks. Since its establishment in 2002, the fund has disbursed more than 100 million shekels to victims of terror and their families.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of occasions during which [the fund] has to be used,” Spielman said.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) said its Bulgaria staff “is working closely with the Bulgarian Jewish community, assessing the steps to be taken in the wake of this tragic event.”
“As the Bulgarian and Israeli government’s emergency response quickly took care of the Israeli casualties of the attack and evacuated them to safety, JDC is focusing on future well-being of the local Bulgarian Jewish community, in concert with the local leadership,” JDC said in a statement.
Besides MDA, initial contributors to the relief efforts in Bulgaria included Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center Director-General Gabriel Barbash, Israeli security personnel, and the ZAKA emergency response team.
Israel blamed the terrorist group Hezbollah for the bombing.
“This attack was part of a global campaign of terror carried out by Iran and Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This terror campaign has reached a dozen countries on five continents. The world’s leading powers should make it clear that Iran is the country that stands behind this terror campaign. Iran must be exposed by the international community as the premier terrorist-supporting state that it is. And everything should be done to prevent Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, from developing the world’s most dangerous weapons.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization said in a statement that countries providing financial support for terrorism “must also bear the responsibility and the consequences.”
“This barbaric attack against Israeli tourists—many of them reportedly teenagers—is in essence an attack against Jews everywhere,” Jewish Council for Public Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a statement. “Those responsible for this terrorism seek to deprive Jews around the globe of their sense of safety.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who met with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren on Thursday morning, said the New York Police Department “certainly monitors what goes on in the world” and is always changing its strategy, but added that the city “won’t see anything different” following the Bulgaria bombing.
“It’s just a reminder of two things: it’s a great tragedy, for families—people killed, kids—and number two, we live in a dangerous world,” Bloomberg said.
Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) National Chairman Dr. Michael Goldblatt said in a statement that the ZOA hopes “Israeli and international investigations will in due course identify and track down the attackers,” emphasizing that it is “almost certain” the victims “were attacked only because they were Jews.”
MDA’s core message, Bin told JNS.org, is that “every Jew and Israeli should know that Magen David Adom will come with the powers of the state [of Israel] and the medical corps to assist in any place.”
“There is no country that takes care of its citizens like the state of Israel,” he said.