By VESELIN TOSHKOV and ARON HELLER
A bus carrying Israeli youth in a Bulgarian resort area exploded Wednesday, killing at least seven people and wounding at least 27 others, police and hospital officials said. Witnesses told Israeli media that the huge blast occurred soon after someone boarded the vehicle.
The incident took place in the Black Sea city of Burgas, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of the capital, Sofia. Images shown on Israeli media showed smoke billowing from the scene, a parking lot at the area’s airport, where the tourists had apparently just landed. Several buses and cars had caught fire near the carcass of the targeted vehicle.
Bulgaria, an eastern European nation, is a popular tourist destination for Israelis. Bulgarian leaders including President Rosen Plevneliev were on their way to the site.
Although it was not yet certain what caused the blast, Israeli tourists have been targeted in attacks before before, namely in India, Thailand and Azerbaijan. Israel foe Iran is suspected of being behind these assaults.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Rosenzweig said a flight from Tel Aviv had landed at a quarter to 5 p.m. and that the blast took place about 40 minutes later.
The tourists were apparently boarding the buses to go to their hotels.
“We don’t know if it was a terror attack,” said Paul Hirschson, another spokesman for the ministry. “We do know it was an explosion.”
Witness Gal Malka told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that she saw someone board the bus before it exploded. She said the bus was full of Israeli teenagers.
The wounded were ferried to nearby hospitals and the airport was closed. A doctor on duty at the Burgas city hospital told Bulgarian radio that there were 27 people hurt _ and at least three had severe injuries. He was not identified.
Officials said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had spoken with his Bulgarian counterpart and was being kept abreast of the developments.
Israel has been accused by Iran of being behind deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel has never admitted to involvement, but it and others have accused Iran of alleged reprisal missions, including a February bombing in New Delhi that wounded an Israeli diplomat’s wife and the discovery of a cache of explosives in Bangkok that Thai officials claim was linked a plot to target Israeli diplomats.
Israel has blamed Iran for the New Delhi explosion, as well as two others, one the same day in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the other the next day in Thailand. Iran has denied involvement.
In Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, security officials in March announced the arrest of 22 suspects allegedly hired by Iran for terrorist attacks against the U.S. and Israeli embassies and other Western-linked sites.
Heller reported from Jerusalem.