Claims of Hezbollah executing a deadly terrorist attack in Europe by using Canadian and Australian operatives have echoed around the world, with politicians mulling strong measures to ensure that the tragedy is never repeated.
In Europe, lawmakers found themselves pressed to fall in line with North America and blacklist Lebanon-based Hezbollah as a terrorist group. In Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the Conservative government has to strengthen measures to track people entering and exiting Canada – and also look at laws that would strip terrorists of their citizenship.
If “you are much more devoted to Hezbollah than you are to Canada, or law and order or the security of your fellow citizens, maybe we should take a hint,” the minister said in an interview with CTV news.
On Tuesday, Bulgaria’s Interior Minister said that a six-month investigation – which drew in part on intelligence from Canada and Australia – revealed persuasive evidence that Hezbollah was behind a deadly 2012 bombing and that a Canadian citizen played a key role.
Declining to release the Canadian suspect’s name, Mr. Kenney described him as a citizen by virtue of his passport only. “He came to Canada as a child,” he said. “I think about the age of 8 with his mother, settled into Vancouver, became a citizen about three or four years later, and then returned to Lebanon at the age of 12.”
Five Israeli tourists en route to a Black Sea resort town were killed in the attack last July, as was the bus driver and the bomber. The plotters made several crucial mistakes that allowed detectives to retrace their steps – including the blunder of killing a comrade who likely never intended to die.
The bomb was supposed to have been placed on the bus and then set off by remote control, European and Bulgarian intelligence officials say. But it exploded prematurely, killing the “tourist” who brought it aboard.
The bomber’s DNA was recovered from the scene, as was a fake U.S. driver’s licence in the name of “Jacque Felipe Martin.” It was among a total of three crudely forged Michigan IDs since recovered by investigators.
One card lists an ostensible Michiganer as a resident of Baton Rouge, La. Another card bears the implausible expiry date of 2025. And yet these fake IDs were good enough to help the suspects move through Europe in the days leading up to the attack.
But to gain admittance to Europe in the first place, the plotters needed something better – and two surviving conspirators allegedly entered Europe with bona fide Canadian and Australian passports given to them in their youth.
These surviving plotters are now said to be back in Lebanon, where they were born and have resided for most of their lives.
Bulgaria’s top antiterrorism investigator is urging Lebanon to co-operate with the probe against Hezbollah, but this could be a tall order.
As a political party, the Shia militants hold sway over swaths of the Middle East country. A senior Hezbollah official in Lebanon denied responsibility for the Bulgarian bus bombing, calling it “lies” directed by Israel. A pro-Hezbollah parliamentarian claimed the attack could have been carried out by Israel.
In the aftermath of the Bulgarian attack, U.S. and Israeli officials have become more adamant in their calls for Europe to reconsider its long-standing reluctance to brand Hezbollah as a banned terrorist group.
The measure has met opposition in Europe, particularly in France. But European Union officials say they could soon consider whether to impose measures by which Hezbollah supporters would be prosecuted for financing or otherwise helping out the group.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday there will be “consequences” if the Hezbollah link to the Bulgarian bus bombing is conclusively proven.