Canadian dual-national linked to 2012 attack on Israelis
Baird commends Bulgaria for 'thorough investigation' into deadly bus blast
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed today that a Canadian dual-national was a suspect in a Hezbollah bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists in Bulgaria last year.
The deadly July 18 blast left five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver dead.
"I can confirm that the individual in question is a dual national who resides in Lebanon," said Baird, who went on to say it's believed the individual is still at large.
"I couldn't even tell you the last time this person was in Canada," Baird told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier Tuesday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, in the first major announcement in the investigation, said one of the suspects entered the country with a Canadian passport and another got in with an Australian passport.
"We have well-grounded reasons to suggest that the two were members of the militant wing of Hezbollah," Tsvetanov said after a meeting of Bulgaria's National Security Council. "We expect the government of Lebanon to assist in the further investigation."
Baird said he could not confirm whether the person had a Canadian passport. Reports from Agence France-Presse said Tsvetanov indicated that the Canadian and the Australian allegedly involved in the attack had been living in Lebanon since 2010 and 2006, respectively.
The Canadian foreign minister said he was not in a position where he could identify the individual, adding that the Canadian government has offered its "full support" in the investigation into the blast.
Canadian officials have been working with Bulgaria for some time, but Baird said he first became aware of the investigation a few weeks ago.
Counterfeit U.S. driver's licences
CBC News has learned Canadian authorities are planning a meeting with their Australian and Bulgarian counterparts to get access to the evidence cited about the bus bombing.
A Shia militant group and political party, Hezbollah emerged in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The group has been linked to attacks and kidnappings on Israeli and Jewish interests around the world, but has denied involvement in the Bulgaria bombing.
The bomb exploded as the bus took a group of Israeli tourists from the airport to their hotel in the Black Sea resort of Burgas. The blast also killed the suspected bomber, a tall and lanky pale-skinned man wearing a baseball cap and dressed like a tourist.
The Canadian government has listed Hezbollah as a militant group since 2002 and calls them "one of the most technically capable terrorist groups in the world."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Europol director Rob Wainwright said the bomb was detonated remotely using a circuit board that a Europol expert has analyzed. Although it was initially believed to be a suicide bombing, Wainwright said investigators believe the bomber never intended to die.
Two counterfeit U.S. driver's licences that were found near the bombing scene were traced back to Lebanon, where they were made, Wainwright said.
He said forensic evidence, intelligence sources and patterns in past attacks all point to Hezbollah's involvement in the blast.
"The Bulgarian authorities are making quite a strong assumption that this is the work of Hezbollah," Wainwright said. "From what I've seen of the case — from the very strong, obvious links to Lebanon, from the modus operandi of the terrorist attack and from other intelligence that we see — I think that is a reasonable assumption."
When asked about recent allegations that Canadians were part of a group of militants in a deadly hostage-taking crisis at an Algerian gas plant last month, Baird said the Bulgarian investigators had "demonstrably more facts.
"We've had a more robust engagement with Bulgaria and they've provided more information," Baird said. "The situation in Algeria is completely different. We don't even have a name which obviously is of concern."
Pressure on EU
Tuesday's statement from the Bulgarian government is expected to put added pressure on the European Union to put Hezbollah on such a list of terror groups.
"We strongly urge other governments around the world – and particularly our partners in Europe – to take immediate action to crack down on Hezbollah," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The United States has listed Hezbollah as a militant group since 1997.
"We need to send an unequivocal message to this terrorist group that it can no longer engage in despicable actions with impunity."
Baird commended Bulgaria for "its thorough investigation of last summer's heinous attack in Burgas."
"That Bulgaria has found convincing evidence of Hezbollah involvement in this carnage is, sadly, not surprising. It is yet more evidence of the depravity of Hezbollah," Baird said.
Shortly after the 2012 attack, Israel put the blame on Hezbollah and Iran. That claim has been denied by Iran.
On Tuesday, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The attack in Burgas was an attack on European land against a member of the European Union,"
"We hope the Europeans learn the proper conclusions from this about the true character of Hezbollah," he said in a statement.
With files from CBC News