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Bulgaria official: Suspected suicide bomber carried fake Michigan license

Burgas airport security cameras caught the alleged terrorist wandering around a terminal minutes before he boarded a bus filled with tourists and allegedly blew himself up. Police are now trying to identify who he was with the help of DNA analysis. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.


Updated at 1:37 p.m. ET: SOFIA, Bulgaria -- A bombing that killed at least seven people and injured dozens on a bus full of Israeli tourists was most likely a suicide attack, Bulgarian officials said Thursday. The suspected attacker was carrying a fake Michigan driver's license, they added.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the suspect appeared on security camera tape near the bus for nearly an hour before the attack that gutted the airport in Burgas, a popular gateway for tourists visiting the Black Sea coast

"We have established there was a person who was a suicide bomber in this attack (on Wednesday)," Tsvetanov told reporters. "This person had a fake driving license from the United States, from the state of Michigan. He looked like anyone else -- a normal person with Bermuda shorts and a backpack."

Bulgarian media reported Thursday that former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mehdi Ghezali was believed to be the suicide bomber. However, U.S. intelligence officials later denied the reports.

Video footage showed the suspect wearing checked shorts and a blue T-shirt. He appeared to be Caucasian with long dark curly shoulder-length hair under a dark blue baseball cap. 

The bomber was said to be 36 years old and had been in the country for between four and seven days before the attack, Reuters reported.

Officials are still trying to determine how the alleged bomber triggered the explosion. 

"He either had turned with his backpack toward the bus when he exploded it or pretended he was one of the group putting his backpack in the baggage compartment under the bus," according to a Bulgarian official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke with the New York Times.  "Video footage clearly shows him in the airport earlier wandering back and forth, following the group, looking nervous."

Seven people, including five Israeli tourists, were killed Wednesday after a bomb exploded on a bus in Bulgaria. The suspected attacker was carrying a fake Michigan driver's license, officials say. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

Authorities had managed to obtain DNA samples from the fingers of the suspected bomber, Tsvetanov said.

Officials did not release the name that appeared on the fake driver's license. 

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov added: "We worked on this with colleagues from the FBI and CIA. They said that there is no such person in their database."

According to the Associated Press, officials lowered the death toll to seven, including the suspected bomber, after mistakenly reporting that someone had died overnight.

Bulgarian security services had received no indications of a pending attack. However, Israel accused Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants of responsibility.

Iran denied it was behind Wednesday's bombing.

Mangled metal
The tourists had just arrived in Bulgaria on a charter flight from Israel and were on the bus in the airport parking lot when the blast tore through the double-decker. Body parts were strewn across the ground, mangled metal hung from the vehicle's ripped roof and black smoke billowed over the airport.

As 150 Israeli tourists boarded buses to go to their hotels, a massive explosion killed at least six. Police don't yet have any answers, and nobody has claimed responsibility. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.

"It felt like an earthquake and then I saw flying pieces of meat," said Georgi Stoev, an airport official. "It was horrible, just like in a horror movie."

On Thursday, the airport in Burgas -- a city of some 200,000 people at the center of a string of seaside resorts -- remained closed and police prevented people from approaching.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak accused the Tehran-backed Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah of carrying out the bombing. "The immediate executors are Hezbollah people, who of course have constant Iranian sponsorship," Barak told Israel Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said Iran, the Jewish state's arch-enemy, was behind the attack and that "Israel will react powerfully against Iranian terror."

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev linked the arrest of a foreigner in Cyprus earlier this month on suspicion of plotting an attack on Israeli tourists there with the Bulgaria bombing.

"The suspect who was arrested in Cyprus, in his interrogation, revealed an operational plan that is almost identical to what happened in Bulgaria. He is from Hezbollah ... this is a further indication of Hezbollah and Iran's direct responsibility," he told Reuters.

Bangkok blasts wound Iranian attacker, 4 others

The blast occurred on the 18th anniversary of a bomb attack at the headquarters of Argentina's main Jewish organisation that killed 85 people and the Argentine government blamed on Iran, which denied responsibility.

BGNES via AFP - Getty Images

Smoke rises over Burgas airport following a Wednesday's blast.

Israeli officials had previously said that Bulgaria, a popular holiday destination for Israeli tourists, was vulnerable to attack by Islamist militants who could infiltrate via Turkey.

Israeli diplomats have been targeted in several countries in recent months by bombers who Israel said struck on behalf of Iran.

Although Tehran has denied involvement, some analysts believe it is trying to avenge the assassinations of several scientists from its nuclear program that the Iranians have blamed on Israel and its Western allies.

Israel and Western powers fear Iran is working towards a nuclear bomb but it says its uranium enrichment work is strictly for peaceful ends. Both Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.

"The attack is terrible and inexcusable," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. "It is a time to act responsibly. We have no information of our own. We urge caution in starting to assign blame."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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