A Bulgarian court has sentenced two Lebanese men, in absentia, to life imprisonment without parole for their involvement in a 2012 bomb attack on an Israeli tour bus, Agence France Presse (AFP) has reported. Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah, 39, and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 32, were found guilty today of being involved in the bomb plot as accomplices.
The pair are believed to have travelled to Bulgaria from Romania in June 2012, a month before the attack, and left the country hours after the bomb was detonated. It is not immediately clear how the pair were involved in the attack beyond printing fake US driver's licences at a university in Lebanon and travelling to the scene of the crime.
The attack, which took place in Bulgaria's Burgas Airport on 18 July 2012, was the deadliest against Israelis since 2004. The bomb killed five people, including a pregnant woman, the Bulgarian bus driver and the French-Lebanese bomber. The attack also left more than 35 of the tourists injured.
The authorities in Bulgaria and Israel claim that the attack was ordered and carried out by Lebanon's Hezbollah, but the Iranian-backed Shia militia has always denied any involvement. Such denials did not stop the European Union's designation of Hezbollah's armed wing as a terrorist organisation.
Nevertheless, the Bulgarian judge today made no mention of Hezbollah, according to Reuters, saying only that there was evidence that "showed that the two defendants… had links to the radical wing of Shia group Hezbollah". Judge Adelina Ivanova, who delivered the verdict this morning, said that the details of the judgement, which can be appealed against within the next 15 days, would be published at a later stage.
Meanwhile, Reuters quoted Prosecutor Evgeniya Shtarkelova who spoke to the small group of masked reporters who were present at the verdict: "The court's sentence reflects the punishment we asked for and is adequate to the committed crimes. Whether it will be served or not will be a result of the search for the wanted persons, which is ongoing."
The pair were initially charged in mid-2016 after DNA analysis identified the bomber as French-Lebanese national Mohamad Hassan El-Husseini. Farah and Hassan are both still being sought under an Interpol red notice and their current whereabouts is unknown to the prosecution, reported AFP.