More than a week after an unidentified terrorist blew up a bus in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israelis and a Bulgarian bus driver, the most proficient counter-terrorist investigators in the world admit they are totally stumped. The bomber’s identity, his accomplices, his organization and nationality were swallowed up in the puff of black smoke thrown up by the blast.
Tuesday, July 24, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov stood alongside President Barack Obama’s anti-terror adviser John Brennan and admitted, “These are extremely experienced people who observed absolute secrecy,” he said. “The way the attack was done there was no stopping it.”
He was venting the frustration of American, Bulgarian, European and Israeli counter-terror and intelligence agencies participating in the investigation of the attack. Their failure to turn up a single lead or clue to the perpetrators of the July 18 bus bombing or their controllers means that they are unarmed for forestalling the next suicide attack or even guessing when or where it will take place.
The Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, in Sofia at the time of the news conference, told the media that Bulgaria had foiled an earlier terrorist attack a few months ago.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources say there is no comparison between the two attacks. Information that a Hizballah hit gang was on the way from Turkey to Bulgaria was relayed in advance to the Bulgarian authorities along with their identities and their expected arrival points.
Who are they? And who sent them?
In the end, the Hizballah terrorists avoided reaching any Bulgarian airport or border post. They apparently realized the authorities were on to them and aborted their mission.
In the Burgas attack, no national anti-terror agency received advance warning – even though it is now known that the terror squad of between three and six men and one woman had been moving around Bulgaria for at least a month before striking their target.
During that time, the group managed to avoid showing up on Bulgarian security cameras. All that has been discovered, although even that is not certain, is that they kept on moving from town to town, changing hotels every few days, during which they kept on changing cars hired from different rental agencies for journeys estimated at several hundred metes each a time.
Totally anonymous to the end, they left no fingerprints or any other sign of their presence in any of the cars or the hotels and bed and breakfast lodgings where they were believed to have stayed. Neither is there any record of their using telephones, mobiles, e-mail or Skype for communication, nor has any local individual so far admitted to encountering them.
Miles and hours of legwork to find witnesses
Even this negative account is speculative, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources stress.
In order to turn up a single clue, the Bulgarian secret service investigators face legwork on a herculean scale for inquiries in dozens of towns and villages and hundreds of hotels and gas stations; interviewing hotel staffs, taxi drivers, restaurateurs and buffet owners, in the hope that someone will recall a useful scrap of information.
By the time we closed this issue, nothing useful had turned up.
To supplement the effort of the relatively small Bulgarian secret service and its slender resources, more than 150 CIA, FBI, Mossad and Shin Bet agents have been co-opted to the investigation.
Even the remains of the man who blew himself up against the bus carrying Israeli holidaymakers in Burgas, the only tangible remnant of the attack, has yielded nothing to help the inquiry. His fingerprints and DNA do not match samples in the databases of any country.
This mode of behavior is atypical of any regular terrorist organizations, which rarely miss the opportunity of blowing their horns after a “successful” operation. But this group of terrorists strove for the reverse effect of mystification and achieved the almost impossible feat of vanishing without a trace and without any organization claiming responsibility.