Thursday, 7 February 2013
After an extensive investigation the Bulgarian authorities confirmed this week that Lebanese terrorist group Hizbullah was behind the bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas on July 18th 2012. The terrorist attack killed five civilians and wounded over a hundred others.
Early assumptions in the investigation were that the attack was the work of a suicide bomber. But analysis of the bomb scene evidence by the Europol expert, including shrapnel from the improvised explosive device (IED), proved otherwise. It confirmed that the device had been remotely detonated and strongly suggested, therefore, that more than one person was responsible for the attack.
Meanwhile, forensic and technical examination of identity documents linked to the investigation led Europol to establish that a US driving license recovered at the crime scene and another recovered elsewhere in Bulgaria were both counterfeits from the same source, located in Lebanon. This discovery was of major importance to the investigation.
The Bulgarian authorities used Europol’s secure communications network as a platform for the exchange of intelligence with other countries throughout this investigation. This allowed Europol to provide analytical support to the Bulgarian investigative team, checking and analysing large amounts of data, and helping to identify potential suspects.
With the assistance of Europol and a number of other international partners the Bulgarian authorities have made substantial progress in the investigation, leading them to uncover the identity of the suspects and their possible link to Hezbollah. Although a final determination of responsibility has not been made Europol’s findings in the case are consistent with this view.
In light of these findings, Europol is assessing the impact of the incident on the threat of international terrorism in the EU.
Indeed the case may lead to Hizbullah being proscribed as a terrorist entity, a process that European states and the EU itself have been long reluctant to do, despite US pressure and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It will be harder to ignore an attack on EU territory, especially since it relates to a movement heavily tied to two nations, Iran and Syria, which the EU already has under sanction.
A new report by Matthew Levitt, former assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the US Treasury Department, states that Hizbullah and Iran's Qods Force have launched a campaign aimed at weakening Israel and Western allies attempting to end Iran’s nuclear programme. The rather dramatic increase in the activity of these groups in 2012 lends credence to the claim.
The London Times also carried an excellent article by José María Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain, and David Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland, entitled "Don’t mince words. Hezbollah are terrorists" which argues compellingly that European governments ought to list Hizbullah as a terrorist group:
… some European governments are not willing to declare Hezbollah a security threat and put it on the EU terrorist list. This refusal is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the group. Hezbollah is not just a Lebanese militia group and political party. It is the long arm of Iran. From its conception by Tehran in 1982, it has been committed to the revolutionary goals of the international expansion of Shia Islam, as dreamt of by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The fact that it holds seats in the Lebanese Parliament and posts in the Cabinet does not mean that its leaders see themselves as just another Lebanese faction — albeit one that murders its political opponents (a UN tribunal found that the assassination of Rafic Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister was a Hezbollah plot).
On the contrary Hezbollah has a global vision and reach. It has perpetrated attacks in places as distant as Argentina, Georgia, Israel, Thailand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as Lebanon. It has been involved in illegal but very lucrative activities in Latin America and West Africa. For instance, it has run drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations in the jungle of Colombia under the control of the FARC. According to US officials Hezbollah is heavily involved in smuggling drugs into Europe.
Some argue that there is a difference between Hezbollah’s military wing, its political wing and its charitable activities. They are wrong — it is one single body and every part plays a role in the overall strategy. The leaders in charge of its hospitals and schools, the military leader and the political representatives all sit together under the secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah. His deputy, Naim Qassem, was quoted as recently as October, saying: "We don’t have a military wing and a political wing. We don’t have the Party of Allah and the Party of Resistance. These differences do not exist and are rejected." […]
We understand the caution of nations that have citizens living in Lebanon or peacekeeping troops deployed there. But fear cannot be a substitute for moral clarity. We need to remember that Unifil II (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) was deployed in 2006 to disarm Hezbollah, not to become its hostage. From what we know, Hezbollah has been able to rearm since the conflict there six years ago. According to Israeli intelligence, Hezbollah’s arsenal of 10,000 rockets was halved by the war; but today it has been expanded to five times the original figure despite the UN mission.
As Iran gets more nervous about the impact of sanctions, the possibility that Tehran may counter-attack through its terrorist proxies has to be considered more serious by the day. Daniel Benjamin, the US State Department counter-terrorism co-ordinator, stated in August: "We are increasingly concerned about Hezbollah’s activities on a number of fronts, including its stepped-up terrorist campaign around the world ... and we assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning." …
The authors point to fear being a prime concern for the reluctance to proscribe Hizbullah a terror entity but the increasing strength of the group, UNIFIL’s failure to curb its dramatic re-armament, and its growing activities in Europe, makes acting to curb its freedom an absolute imperative.
Posted on 02/07/2013 12:27 PM by Robert Harris
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