Terrorists on the run sentenced to life for Hezbollah bus bombing

Six were killed and more than 35 injured in the attack eight years ago at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport

FILE - In this Thursday, July 19, 2012 file photo, a damaged bus is transported out of Burgas airport, Bulgaria, a day after a deadly suicide attack on a bus full of Israeli vacationers. Israel's prime minister said Sunday, July 22, 2012 that his country is on alert for plots to kill more of its citizens overseas, after speculation that last week's deadly bombing of a tour bus in Bulgaria was a rehearsal for a spectacular attack on Israel's Olympics team. (AP Photo/ Impact Press Group)

Two terrorists have been sentenced to life in jail for the 2012 tourist bus bomb attack at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport, despite continuing to evade attempts to catch them.

The explosion killed five Israeli tourists, including a pregnant woman, their Bulgarian bus driver and the Franco-Lebanese man who carried the device. More than 35 people were injured.

Bulgarian and Israeli authorities blamed the bombing on Hezbollah, a move that led to the EU blacklisting the group’s military wing as a terrorist organisation.

Judge Adelina Ivanova sentenced the two men – who fled Bulgaria and were tried in their absence – to “life in jail without parole”, finding them guilty of terrorism and manslaughter.

They were identified as Lebanese-Australian Meliad Farah, 39, and Lebanese-Canadian Hassan El Hajj Hassan, 32.

DNA analysis identified the bomber as Mohamad Hassan El Husseini, 23, who held French and Lebanese citizenship.

Airport CCTV footage showed him wandering inside the airport’s arrivals hall with a backpack on his back shortly before the explosion that tore through a bus outside the terminal. It had been heading to Sunny Beach, a popular summer destination on the Black Sea.

Witnesses said he tried to put his backpack inside the luggage compartment of the bus full of Israelis when it exploded.

The tourists who were killed were all in their twenties, except for the pregnant woman, aged 42.

Prosecutors were unable to determine if the explosive was triggered by the bomber or remotely detonated by one of two men who had also helped him to assemble the explosive device.

“I pleaded for the heaviest punishment because I consider that this terrorist act deserves to be punished in the heaviest possible way,” prosecutor Evgenia Shtarkelova said.

An investigation into the bombing found they arrived in Bulgaria from Romania in June 2012 and left again the evening after the attack.

Ms Shtarkelova said the nature of the explosive device, the fake US driving licences used by the men, their Lebanese descent and some family ties “link both defendants ... and the attack to the terrorist organisation Hezbollah.”

A public defender for Hassan, lawyer Zhanet Zhelyazkova, countered that evidence of her client’s complicity with the attack was “only circumstantial”.

The investigation into the attack found that the fake licences were made by the same printer at a university in Lebanon.

It also said the suspects received money from people linked to Hezbollah.

Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, has stressed that Hezbollah was behind the attack “in terms of logistics and financing”.

The prosecution confirmed that it had no clue about the two men’s whereabouts and that they are still sought on an Interpol red notice.

The court ruling is still subject to appeal, which can be lodged within 15 days to a higher court.