As stunned and grieving families buried Friday the five Israelis killed in Wednesday’s terror attack in Bulgaria, authorities were still trying to learn the suicide bomber’s identity.
“It is really confusing,” Dr. Alexander Oscar, president of the Jewish community in Sofia, said by phone Thursday evening. “We still don’t have any clear information. … I cannot understand what the incentive of the bomber was – why did he stay instead of just leaving the bombing and walking away. Maybe he put the package there and it unintentionally detonated.”
Israel has blamed Iran and its proxy Hezbollah for the attack.
Oscar said his efforts for the prior 24 hours had been focused on helping the victims of the bombing that occurred on an Israeli tour bus at the Burgas airport, a popular gateway for tourists vacationing at the Black Sea coast.
Yonatan Yagodovsky, director of the International Department of Mogen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster and ambulance service, said 37 Israelis had been injured in the explosion, three of them critically.
Oscar said the three Israelis who had been most seriously injured were transported by plane to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia some 50 minutes away. They were each then taken to different hospitals.
“I had been in touch with the Israeli Embassy here and the Israeli ambassador asked me to wait for one of the injured at the military hospital in Sofia,” said Oscar, who is a neurologist.
“A 26-year-old woman named Amit was brought in, accompanied by her uncle who had been vacationing in Bulgaria,” he said. “She had come with her mother to Bulgaria for three days and were supposed to go back home Saturday.”
Oscar said the young woman’s mother was slightly hurt in the explosion and was taken to a hospital in Bulgas with the 33 other injured Israelis.
“When Amit was brought in she was in an induced coma,” he said. “She had massive injuries. The uncle called me at 6:30 because he said he heard on the news that one of the critically injured Israelis had died. I checked and told him it was not true, that all three were alive. At 8 he called and said his niece woke up from the coma and was very excited and crying.”
The other two critically injured patients were a young man who had burns over 60 to 70 percent of his body, as well as a lot of shrapnel wounds. The woman had burns on her left arm and brain injury, Oscar said.
Yagodovsky said that after learning of the terror attack, a special Israeli Air Force medical airplane was dispatched carrying 10 of his organization’s doctors, seven paramedics and five other doctors from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov). He said the flight took about 4 ½ hours and that it arrived at 1:30 a.m — about 8 1/2 hours after the attack. The doctors then raced directly to the hospitals to see the injured.
He said some of the patients who had orthopedic injuries and suffered shrapnel wounds underwent surgery in the Burgas hospitals.
By Thursday morning, those in Burgas’ hospitals were all transported by ambulances to a waiting plane and arrived in Israel 21 hours after the bombing.
“That was behind the mission of getting there as quickly as possible with our medical equipment, blood units and medical teams – which was all coordinated with the Bulgarian Red Cross with which we have good relations,” Yagodovsky said. “The local medical teams at the hospitals were good and professional and there was no need for extensive medical attention.”
Oscar said the three critically injured Israelis were deemed well enough to fly to Israel on a separate plane that arrived in Israel late Thursday night. He said Amit’s mother was released from the hospital and accompanied her daughter on the flight.
Oscar said there had been a rumor at the beginning of the year that Hezbollah was planning a terrorist attack, but he said it was never officially confirmed. And he said no extra security had been provided to Jews or Jewish venues. But after the attack, he said, “we have a lot of security.”
“We have a two-week Jewish summer camp that will be starting for more than 200 children and teenagers just outside Sofia and there will be a huge amount of security there – 15 police officers,” Oscar said. “There are also extra police at synagogues, the JCC and the Jewish day school, both of which are in Sofi,” he added.
“We feel really very sad that in a country like Bulgaria which has always been very friendly towards the Jews and the State of Israel that a terrorist attack like this can happen,” Oscar said. “”Now it is very important to show the unity of the Jewish people. And we must now see how we can prevent similar attacks in the future. Some 200,000 Israelis come here annually to vacation.”