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Bulgarian Bus Bombing – Odd Traveller The Major Clue


Two weeks after a bomb detonated aboard a bus at Bourgas airport, on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast, the local media continue to hypothesise as to what exactly happened. About all that can be stated with certainty is that it was indeed a bomb, that its explosion killed five of the passengers,  Israeli tourists who’d just arrived on a charter flight from Tel Aviv, and the driver, a Bulgarian man who happened to be a Muslim. And killing also – it seems – the bomber.

But this is where fact is necessarily deferring at this point to hypothesis. At the outset dubbed suicidal, claims soon emerged that the bomber may have been a ‘mule’, who’d been set up by the real killers to board the bus ignorant of the contents of his backpack and whose lethal baggage was then remotely detonated by a nearby operative.

This young man’s head was separated from his body in the blast and is being studied by forensic experts. Already leaked photos are in cyberspace, as are artist drawings of what he may have looked like. And soon, we’re told, the Bulgarian authorities will be ready to supply the Israeli investigators with a reconstruction of the man’s features.

Meantime, and indeed since the day after the bombing, we can all speculate on account of the airport CCTV footage of the putative bomber, released by the Bulgarian interior ministry in the hope of garnering relevant information. Interested readers can view the 16-second clip on youtube. We see a strangely-dressed young man walk into the airport, stop and look up briefly, before turning around and walking out again. Sarafovo Airport is of modest proportions – half a dozen steps was all he needed to see what he wanted to see. We can speculate that it was the arrivals board. We can speculate that it was a repeat entry, because he looked up immediately and briefly, which is not the normal behaviour of a traveller on initially entering an airport terminal.

I say ‘strangely dressed’, because this man in the video looks like someone made up to look like a summer backpacker by someone who really doesn’t know what backpackers look like. He wears a blue baseball cap, perched uncomfortably on top of long and bulky blonde hair which looks suspiciously like a wig – apparently it was.  He wears a seemingly matching blue tee-shirt, and loudly checked – white and red and blue perhaps – Bermuda shorts, reaching just below the knee. And white sneakers, with a hint of the very short socks much favoured in this part of the world, designed to avoid bare feet in footwear but otherwise be virtually unseen. He appears to be Caucasian.

When I first saw that video, my immediate impression was of someone who’s just time-travelled from the 1970s.  What made the man particularly odd was the huge backpack – obviously heavy because of how low it hung on his back and jutting out more or less in cuboid shape half a metre or so behind him. And then there was the ‘fanny pack’, as Americans would call it, carried at the front. Huge and square-shaped, like a laptop bag – for a decade-old laptop.

It’s been suggested in the media – more than once – that the airport security people, it’s a private security firm, were remiss in not noticing anything odd about this person. But would you necessarily, in this day and age, here in Bulgaria which was not hitherto noted for suicide bombings, especially at the seaside in mid-summer. Not that Bulgaria is ignorant of the utility of the bomb – a number of gangland hits since communism ended have used the method – but this was of a different order. Fact is that in recent years, with a goodly number of mobsters having been despatched or having emigrated to more agreeable locations, Bulgaria has been a pretty placid place.

And as much more attuned countries well enough know, you cannot keep security up all the time, even when you have good reason to. Just last week, in Manchester, England, days before the start of the 2012 Olympics in London,  an 11-year-old boy was able to walk unchecked, sans boarding pass or identity document, onto an international flight. He probably didn’t look any more odd than the putative bomber in Bourgas.

Another – sad – fact is that there is a great deal of animosity between Israelis and Arabs and they spend a lot of time planning or commissioning the killing one of the other, tit for tat, eye for eye fashion. If you were an anti-Israeli outfit looking for somewhere to kill Israelis in relative comfort, Bourgas airport on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast on a lovely summer’s day, with scheduled and charter flights pouring in from all over, and arrivees then taking all manner of transport away from the airport, and it happening time and time again, would present as a pretty soft option. The Israelis immediately identified the culprits – according to them – as being Iran and/or Hezbollah and no doubt reprisals are being prepared as I write.

In the fullness of time, perhaps we will learn the true identity of the 1970s time-traveller who came to Bulgaria, wittingly or not as the case may be, to kill Israelis just for being such, and of the people – for undoubtedly there were – who orchestrated this monstrous act. We can, I venture to suggest and fervently hope, be confident that it was not a Bulgarian who did it.

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