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Backpack bomber blew up six people

He looked like any other impatient tourist checking the board at airport arrivals: a lanky, long-haired man in a baseball cap with his hands in the pockets of his Bermuda shorts, a bulky backpack hanging from his shoulders.

Minutes later, the man, filmed by security cameras at the Burgas airport in Bulgaria, would board a bus filled with young Israeli tourists and blow himself up, killing six others as well. Authorities looked for clues as to who he was, using his fingerprints, his DNA and his fake US driver's licence.

His victims included the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israelis, including a pregnant woman.

Israel was quick to blame Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bombing "was carried out by Hezbollah, the long arm of Iran". Iran's foreign ministry called the accusation "baseless".



Attack

Israel has attributed a series of attacks on its citizens around the world in recent months to Iran and its Shia proxies, threatening to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies that has escalated over Israeli allegations that the Iranians are trying to build nuclear weapons.

The attack occurred shortly after the Israelis boarded a bus outside the airport in the Black Sea resort town of Burgas, a popular destination for Israeli high school graduates before they are drafted into military service.

On Thursday, Bulgarian television aired security camera footage showing the suspected bomber in the terminal shortly before the blast.

The bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days, interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said without elaborating.

Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov said a Michigan driver's licence was retrieved, but US officials said there was "no such person in their database". Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab communities in the US.



Flight

The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Tel Aviv carrying 154 people, including eight children.

Some of them told Israeli television that they were boarding the bus in the parking lot when the blast occurred.

A plane carrying 33 Israelis injured arrived in Israel yesterday. At least two critically injured Israelis were sent to Sofia for treatment.

A government plane was to fly home 100 other Israelis who were not wounded, but who want to cut their holiday.

Since the fall of communism, Israel has maintained friendly ties with Bulgaria, a nation of 7 million that resisted Nazi demands to deport Jews to death camps in World War II. Many of them migrated to Israel when the communists seized power after the war, and about 5,000 Jews live in Bulgaria today.

hnews@herald.ie