(CNSNews.com) – If Israel’s accusation that Iran was behind Wednesday’s deadly attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria proves correct, it will shed further light on what appears to be an ambitious scheme targeting Israelis on at least three continents to date.
Israel’s foreign ministry said it was dispatching an expert team to help Bulgarian authorities in the investigation into the bus bombing, which killed six Israelis and a Bulgarian. Bulgaria’s interior minister said Thursday a suicide bomber had caused the blast, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said “all signs point to Iran.”
While the Obama administration’s counterterror strategy has increasingly focused on “al-Qaeda and its affiliates,” any notion that Iran and its Hezbollah ally may have eased away from terrorism outside the Middle East has been disproved in recent months. Attacks or foiled plots in Asia, Europe and Africa have underlined Tehran’s long-held place as the world’s top terror-sponsoring state.
Just 11 days ago, authorities in Cyprus arrested a Lebanese man – an alleged Hezbollah member – suspected of plotting to bomb an aircraft or a bus carrying Israeli tourists.
On Monday, a court in Kenya released on bail ahead of their trial next Monday two Iranian men who were arrested in the East African country on June 19 and led security officials to a cache of the military-grade explosive, RDX.
A police anti-terror unit investigator’s affidavit submitted to the court alleged that the two “have a vast network in the country meant to execute explosive attacks against government installations, public gatherings and foreign establishments,” according to Kenyan media reports.
Police say the two were sent by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Their lawyer says they are civil servants who traveled to Kenya as tourists, and Iran’s ambassador in Nairobi denied claims of government involvement, saying Iran was itself “a victim of terrorism.”
Last March, security officials in Azerbaijan said they had arrested 22 suspects who had been trained by the IRGC to carry out attacks against the Israeli and U.S. embassies in Baku. Two months earlier, three men were detained in Azerbaijan’s capital, accused of having received arms and equipment from Iranian agents in order to attack Israelis employed by a Jewish school.
Last February 14, a group of Iranians were implicated in a series of blasts in the Thai capital, Bangkok. One was apprehended after throwing several hand grenades, blowing off his own legs, another was arrested trying to board a flight out of the country, and a third managed to leave but was arrested the next day in Malaysia, where a court last month approved his extradition to Thailand.
The suspects have not confessed to their targets, but Thailand’s police chief said they were involved in an alleged plot to kill Israeli diplomats.
Thai investigators said the bombs were similar to those used in an attack in India on February 13 – one day before the Bangkok blasts – in which the wife of the Israeli defense attache in New Delhi was seriously injured. Indian police arrested several Iranians suspected to be Qods Force operatives.
Also on February 13, a similar explosive device was found on a car belonging to a staffer at the Israeli Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, but safely defused.
And last January, an attempt to bomb a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria was foiled.
‘Primary terror mechanism’
The U.S. government designated Iran a state-sponsor of terrorism in 1984, and in annual reports ever since the State Department has consistently identified it as “the premier state sponsor” or “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.”
According to the department, the IRGC’s external operations branch, the Qods Force is “the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.”
Some analysts link an apparent Iranian plot to target Israelis to a series of attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007, which Tehran has blamed on Israel.
The Qods Force has had Israelis and Jews in its sights for decades, however.
Wednesday’s attack in Bulgaria came on the 18th anniversary of another major terrorist attack blamed on the Qods Force and Hezbollah – the bombing of a Jewish community center in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded 300 more. (Iran was also implicated in the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires two years earlier, in which 29 people were killed.)
Argentine prosecutors accused Iran of ordering the suicide truck bombing of the community center and Hezbollah of carrying it out. At their request Interpol in 2007 issued “red notices” for Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah and five senior Iranians.
They include then Qods Force leader Ahmad Vahidi (now defense minister), then intelligence chief Ali Fallahian (now a member of the Assembly of Experts, a top body of religious scholars) and then IRGC commander Mohsen Rezai (now secretary of a council that advises the supreme leader, and a candidate for president next year).
Mughniyah, one of the world’s most-wanted terrorists, was killed in a 2008 bomb blast in Syria which Hezbollah blames on Israel.
In a brief statement Wednesday reacting to the Bulgaria attack, Netanyahu noted that it coincided with the anniversary of the Buenos Aires bombing.
“Over the last few months we have seen Iran’s attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries,” he said, pledging to react to the “global Iranian terror onslaught.”
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, the Qods Force has provided weapons and other assistance to Shi’ite militias in Iraq, the Taliban, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
For the past 12 years the Qods Force has been headed by Ghasem Soleimani, a general now in his mid-50s.
Soleimani has been designated three times under a U.S. executive order designed to disrupt funding to terrorists – in 2007, to punish the Qods Force and broader IRGC for supporting terrorism and nuclear-related activity; in May 2011, for supporting the Assad regime’s repression in Syria; and in October 2011, when he was one of five Iranians designated for their roles in an alleged plot to carry out attacks on American soil, beginning with the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
During a U.S. House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on Iranian terror last October, two panelists – a former U.S. Army vice chief of staff and a former CIA operative – suggested that Soleimani be killed, prompting protests from Iran.