On Jan. 17, the sister publication of "24 hours", the weekly "168 Hours", published an article by its editor, Slavi Angelov, reporting that the Bulgarian investigators had failed to find any evidence of Hezbollah involvement.
Angelov, one of the country's premier investigative journalists, also wrote that one of the two suspects whose fake IDs were traced to Beirut had been linked by a "closely allied intelligence service" to a wing of Al-Qaeda.
The story, which is not available on the internet but was summarised on the "24 Hours" website, earned a brief reference in a Jan. 17 story in the "Jerusalem Post". That story referred to Angelov's sources for the information about the Al-Qaeda link as unnamed officials in the Interior Ministry.
The Angelov story's revelation that Bulgaria had no evidence linking Hezbollah to the bus bombing was also headlined by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on the same day.
By the time the investigation's four-month extension was due to expire on Jan. 18, there was no question among investigators that they needed much more time to reach any meaningful judgment on who was responsible for the bombing. Chief prosecutor Karadzhova told "24 Hours" there was "no obstacle to the deadline being extended repeatedly".
But by mid-January, international politics posed such an obstacle: the United States and Israel were already pointing to the Feb. 18 meeting of EU foreign ministers as an opportunity to get action by the EU on listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. Washington and Tel Aviv wanted a conclusion from the Bulgarians that could be used at that meeting to force the issue.
A meeting of Bulgaria's Consultative Council for National Security to consider extending the investigation, originally scheduled for Jan. 17, was suddenly postponed.
Instead, on that date Foreign Minister Mladenov was sent on an unannounced visit to Israel. Israel's Channel 2 reported after the meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror that Bulgaria had given Israel a report blaming Hezbollah for the bus bombing.
The office of the Bulgarian foreign minister and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov both issued denials Jan. 18. Borissov said there would be no comment on the investigation until "indisputable evidence has been discovered", implying that it did not have the needed evidence yet.
Nevertheless, over the next three weeks, the Bulgarian government had to negotiate the wording of what it would say about the conclusion of its investigation.
The decision to call the conclusion an "assumption" or even the weaker "hypothesis" about Hezbollah was obviously a compromise between the preference of the investigators themselves and the demands of the United States and Israel.
The timing of that decision is a sensitive issue in Bulgaria. Prime Minister Borissov told reporters in Brussels Feb. 7 that he had decided to "name Hezbollah" after investigators had found the SIM card at the site of the bombing. That would put the decision well before Karadzhova gave her interview Jan. 1.
And in any case, the discovery of the SIM card could not have caused the investigators to veer toward Hezbollah but would have called that hypothesis into question.
Tsvetanov admitted that the Hezbollah "assumption" had been adopted only "after the middle of January". That admission indicates that the decision was reached under pressure from Washington, not because of any new evidence.
*Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
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