Bulgarian police were working flat out Friday with the FBI and Interpol to try and identify a suicide bomber who killed six people including five Israeli tourists and piece together his final movements.
Investigators have released CCTV footage of the man they believe carried out Wednesday’s attack in the Black Sea airport of Borgas on a bus carrying Israeli holiday-makers, which also claimed the life of the Bulgarian driver.
Early on Friday five coffins draped in Israeli flags were taken off a military plane at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv watched by mourning relatives. The victims were due to be buried later in the day.
They were named as Kochava Shriki, 44, who was pregnant, and Yitzhik Kolengi, Amir Menashe, Elior Priess, and Maor Harush, all in their 20s. More than 30 people were also injured, three of them seriously.
Airport video footage released by Bulgarian authorities showed an apparently white male with long hair dressed in typical holiday gear — shorts, a baseball cap, sneakers — and carrying a backpack and a laptop bag.
Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the man, who was shown wandering around the airport, looked around 36 years old. He was carrying a fake driving licence from the US state of Michigan.
Investigators have taken fingerprints from the bomber’s body and are trying to find a DNA match.
Kalina Tchapkanova, a Bulgarian prosecutor, was quoted by bTV television as saying that the day before the attack the suspect had been in Ravda, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Borgas.
In the small seaside town of Pomorie he tried to hire a car but was refused because of doubts about his driving licence, Tchapkanova said. She cited witnesses as saying he spoke English with an accent, possibly an Arabic one.
“The man took the refusal (to hire a car) calmly … We have interviewed the taxi driver who took him to the airport in the afternoon. He also took a taxi in the morning to carry out reconnaissance,” the prosecutor said.
“The man hardly spoke to the taxi drivers. He was calm.”
Sources said investigators, who were in close contact with their Israeli counterparts, were focusing on recent Bulgarian converts to Islam and, in view of Hezbollah’s possible involvement, on any Lebanese living in the country.
“This was an attack against Israeli interests,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said Friday.
“The aim was to show that Israeli citizens can be attacked anywhere in the world.”
Israel has blamed Iran and Tehran’s “terrorist proxy” Hezbollah, saying it fitted a pattern of other recent attacks or attempted attacks on Israelis including in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya and Cyprus.
The Islamic Republic, amid growing international tensions over its nuclear programme, rejected the accusations as “ridiculous”.
US President Barack Obama has condemned what he called a “barbaric terrorist attack”.
Speaking in Florida, he said: “I want everybody to know, under my administration, we haven’t just preserved the unbreakable bond with Israel, we have strengthened it.”
The UN Security Council and the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East peace process — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and United States — have also denounced the attack.
The explosion ripped through the bus as around 50 Israeli tourists arriving from Tel Aviv were loading their bags before travelling to a nearby holiday and gambling resort.
Witnesses described how panicked passengers jumped from bus windows and bodies lay strewn on the ground with their clothes torn off.
“I would have lost my life in a split-second, had I not jumped out of the bus’s window,” survivor Moshe Moseri told Israeli news website Walla, describing seeing “corpses on the floor with their arms and legs severed.”
The bomber struck on the 18th anniversary of an attack on a Jewish community centre in Argentina that killed 85 people. That was also blamed on Iran.
In the wake of the attack, several countries including, Cyprus and Austria, have stepped up security.
Burgas airport reopened under heavy security with all traces of the attack removed, although the bomb site remained off-limits behind police tape.
A cordon was set up around the airport building where people had to have all bags checked.
The burnt-out shell of the bus was taken away on Thursday, along with another bus that also caught fire in the blast and which had a large blood stain down its side.
Israel and Bulgaria have good relations and the Black Sea coast has become a popular holiday spot for Israelis, with almost 140,000 visiting the country in 2011. About 13 percent of the Bulgarian population is Muslim.