Bulgarian national security experts and analysts say that the terrorist attack in Burgas on Wednesday showed that the country was not prepared to deal with a challenge of this type.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 20/07/12
Bulgarian authorities are under fire from local analysts over their failure to thwart Wednesday's suicide bombing attack in the country's Black Sea resort city of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian national.
"This was a tragic incident for Bulgaria," Professor Yuliy Abadjiev, a Bulgarian national security and anti-terrorism expert, told SETimes on Thursday (July 19th).
"It was a criminal act against the Bulgarian state with a very serious economic impact. It also came to prove that terrorists will show no mercy to any country in the pursuit of their goals, which were related to Israel in this case," added Abadjiev, who heads the Union of Bulgarian Commandos and the International Academy Commandos, a Sofia-based not-for-profit organistion. "The Bulgarian security forces must wake up and realise that they must be vigilant when there is a large group of Israelis in one place, and that preventive security measures must be boosted."
Given the weaknesses in the country's intelligence sector, the security service should focus on improving their capacity in the prevention area, Abadjiev said.
The incident occurred less than an hour after a charter flight from Tel Aviv, with 154 people on board, landed at the Sarafovo airport outside Burgas on Wednesday. About 40 of the Israeli tourists were boarding a bus that was supposed to take them to the Sunny Beach resort, when the vehicle was blown up in a suspected suicide bombing attack. Aside from the five tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver, who were killed on the spot, another 31 Israelis and a representative of the Bulgarian tour company were wounded in the explosion.
"The suicide bomber, who blew up himself, or was blown up, did not act alone," Abadjiev said. "Keep in mind that those people never act alone. They have to get the bomb, or explosive materials, from someone inside the country."
Retired General Atanas Atanasov, a lawmaker of the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) and a former head of the country's security services, said that Wednesday's incident showed the security forces "complete failure" 'to deal with terrorist attacks.
"This is not surprising, given that the government's 44-page annual national security report contains just one single sentence on international terrorism as a national security threat," he told SETimes on Friday.
"It is obvious that one of the Islamic terrorist organisations was behind the attack in Burgas," he noted. "Their decision to stage it on our territory apparently comes in response to some very serious foreign policy gaffe affecting their region" that the government in Sofia made," Atanasov said, adding that he would "not speculate" about this.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported in early January that the country's Transportation Ministry had asked the security agencies of a number of European nations, including Bulgaria, to beef up security around groups of Israeli tourists "in various resorts like ski resorts and hotels."
"I asked to formally tighten security because I am worried about a security-related incident," the paper's report of January 5th quoted Danny Shenar, head of security in the Transportation Ministry, as saying. "I've asked security services in Europe to escort groups of Israelis and conduct searches with tracking dogs," he added, citing Sofia as the main threat target site, noting however that "other places should not be ignored."
Israel has blamed Iran for the attack, an accusation that Iran denied through state-run TV. The New York Times, quoting an unnamed senior US official, said that American officials identified the bomber as a member of Hezbollah who was "acting under broad guidance" to attack Israeli targets.
Bulgaria had not witnessed any terrorist attacks on its territory since a series of bombing incidents in the mid-1980's carried out mainly by local ethnic Turks against the communist regime's assimilation campaign, as part of the so-called Revival Process. Wednesday's incident came as a surprise for the country's authorities.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, however, downplayed the risk of his country becoming the target of a terrorist attack in January, citing its good business relations with Arab nations.
"The Arab world makes business in Bulgaria," he said, promoting what critics eventually started referring to as his "kebab doctrine."
"At every corner, there is a kebab shop. We hope people who take such decisions would take this in account," Borisov said.
Critics also slam the government for its failure to take the warning that came in the Haaretz report seriously, which it completely ignored.
"The Burgas attack showed the complete failure of Prime Minister Borisov's 'kebab diplomacy'", former Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, the founder and head of Bulgaria's Atlantic Club, told SETimes on Friday. "The main strategic goal that could help the world deal with the threat of any future terrorist attacks should be consolidation and globalisation."