Friday, July 20, 2012

Murder in Bulgaria

SWEDISH PASSPORT of Mehdi Ghazali, ex-Guantanamo prisoner. But Swedish and US authorities denied he was the bomber.

ISRAELI forensic experts were going to Bulgaria yesterday to join Bulgarian police investigating the bombing of a tourist bus leaving the airport at the Black Sea resort of Burgas. Seven people, including the driver and five Israelis and another man were killed, and more than thirty injured, in what was reported to be a suicide bombing.

But if Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was to be believed, there seemed to be little point holding an investigation. Promising to "exact a heavy price" from the perpetrators, Netanyahu declared "This is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading across the world. Israel will forcefully react to Iran's terror."

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak put only a slightly different spin on the line, saying "the direct executors are Hezbollah" and vowing to "punish" it.

Weaving the two together, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the bombing had been carried out by "Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran."

Both Iran and Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese Shi'ite-based party and resistance movement allied with Iran and Syria, denied responsibility. The Iranian government said it was itself a target of terrorism, all forms of which it said it condemned. Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tehran declared that "terrorism endangers the lives of innocents."

Hezbollah also denied responsibility, rejecting suggestions that it would have ordered the bombing as a revenge attack. " We will not seek revenge over the death of Imad Mughniyah by harming tourists,” a Hezbollah spokesman told Lebanese media. Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s top military commander, was assassinated in a car-bomb explosion in Damascus in February 2008. Hezbollah blamed Israel for Mughniyah’s killing and vowed to take revenge.

In Bulgaria the Chief Mufti’s Office representing the country's Muslim minority condemned the attack at Burgas Airport, as “an act of encroachment on civilians,” and “denounced terrorism and all its forms.” The Office sent condolences to the family and relatives of the Bulgarian driver who died in the attack, Mustafa Kyosov from the southwestern village of Yurukovo. Chief Mufti Mustafa Hadzhi will attend the funeral.

The Bulgarian government has sent condolences to Israel, as have others. But as to responsibility, the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nikolay Mladenov, said that he thought "it is wrong and a mistake to point fingers at this stage of the investigation at any country or organisation."

In fact the early evidence pointed anywhere but Iran, or the Hezbollahi.

Bulgarian media reports named the suicide attacker as Mehdi Ghazali, a former detainee at the US-run internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. The Bulgarian authorities posted an airport video showing the bomber, with pale skin and long red hair, and who the Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said had been carrying a fake Michigan driving licence, wandering into the arrivals hall of the airport, looking around and wandering out again. He is seen carrying an unusually large back pack which witnesses said contained the bomb.

Ghazali, a Swedish citizen of Algerian-Finnish origin, is said to have studied at a British mosque, and to have travelled to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan -all Sunni dominated countries. Saudi Arabia is supplying weapns and financial backing to some of the rebels in Syria and participating in the repression against Bahrain's mainly Shi'ite population.

The Taliban had Saudi backing and Pakistani bases for their take over of Afghanistan, at least partly as a counterweight to Iranian influence. In Pakistan, the Shi'ite minority have been targets of persecution and terror attacks.

Ghezali was held at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp in Cuba, after he was captured in Pakistan for being an “unlawful combatant,” Haaretz reported. He was also reportedly arrested after trying to cross into Afghanistan in 2009, but was apparently later released.

The mosque in Britain at which Ghazali studied was run by Omar Bakri Mohammad, former leader of Hizb at Tahrir and founder of al Mohajiroun. A self-declared Salafi and admirer of al Qaida, Omar Bakri was sentenced to prison on terrorism charges in Lebanon in 2010.

Hezbollah did approach Omar Bakri in Lebanon, not to plan a terror campaign, but to try and avert one. The Shi'ite party fears a new sectarian war in Lebanon, with Sunni forces turning on them. Salafis don't regard Shl'ites as fellow Muslims but as heretics, worse if possible than "Kafirs" (unbelievers), among whom they count Hindus, Sikhs and Jews, all to be cleared off 'Muslim lands'. The carnage in Syria has intensified Hezbollah fears that Al Qaida attacks could spearhead all out sectarian war aimed at putting Shi'ites "in their place" or even wiping them out.

None of this has stopped US media and officials lumping Hezbollah and Al Qaida together, and a US court even decided in December that Iran was to blame for the 9/11 attack, which both Iran and Hezbollah condemned. Ten years might seem a long time in which to reach such a perverse verdict, but with two wars to get out of the way - and not entirely - before getting ready for a third, US justice is next to British perhaps, the best that money can buy

To complicate the story, although it now seems agreed the Burgas atrocity was a suicide bombing, and not explosives packed on the bus then detonated from elsewhere, the Swedish authorities say the man on the bus was not Mehdi Ghazali. They hint they know more but cannot say. US officials seem to be taking the same line.

Continuing to blame Iran, under whose direct orders Israel is convinced Hezbollah acts in its operations outside Lebanon, Netanyhau went out of his way to link the attack at the Black Sea resort of Burgas with Tehran's nuclear ambitions. "The time has come for all countries that know the truth to speak it," he said. "Iran is the one behind the wave of terror. Iran is the No 1 exporter of terror in the world. A terrorist state must not have a nuclear weapon. The most dangerous country in the world must not possess the most dangerous weapon on earth."

A lot of people might say the same about Israel. After all, it led the way to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East long before the present Iranian regime existed. And obnoxious though the Islamicist regime may be, it has not bombed, invaded nor occupied its neighbours.

Even former heads of Israeli intelligence say war with Iran would be crazy, and Meir Javedanfar, an Iran analyst at Israel's Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, expressed doubts about apportioning blame for the Bulgaria bombing before a full investigation bore fruit, pointing out that al-Qai'da had been held responsible for an attack targeting Israelis in Kenya in 2002.

Javedanfar said if Israel's government really had solid intelligence that Hezbollah had been responsible for the bombing then it would have been under Iran's aegis, and Iran "would have made a very big mistake by doing this on European Union soil. "It would mean that Iran's hopes of an easing of sanctions by the EU would become more distant if it was Iran's responsibility."

On the other hand it might suit other interests, such as those already wageing a proxy war against Iran and its allies, to stage an attack for which the Iranians and Hezbollah took the blame. (The New York Times quotes unnamed US officials as certain the bombing was carried out on Iranian orders. Well fancy that.)

As for Israelis, some with menories are recalling sadly how, thirty years ago, their forces bombed and invaded Lebanon to destroy the PLO, ostensibly responding to an assassination attempt on Israel's ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov. The PLO in fact had nothing to do with this attack, in fact their diplomats were most often the targets of the Abu Nidal group responsible. But the Palestinian people and their Lebanese allies paid the price, culminating in the massacres at Sabra and Chatila. Though there was uproar in Israel, its forces maintained their occupation of southern Lebanon, until driven out, which is where we - or rather where Hezbollah came in.

Iran would not be so easy.

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