SOFIA, Bulgaria — A massive explosion enveloped a bus carrying Israeli tourists in a fireball on Wednesday outside an airport in the Bulgarian city of Burgas, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens more in what Bulgaria, Israel, and the United States called a terrorist attack. Israel quickly blamed Iran.
The blast scorched several buses nearby, shattered windows, and forced the airport to temporarily close. Young Israelis said they were just boarding when the explosion ripped through the white vehicle.
“We were at the entrance of the bus, and in a few seconds we heard a huge boom,” said Gal Malka, an Israeli teenager who was slightly wounded in the blast. “Next thing we saw were body parts scattered on the ground.”
Eyewitnesses quoted by Israeli news media said some victims were on fire as they tried to escape the flaming bus.
All the victims were Israeli except for the Bulgarian tour operator.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which wounded 30 others. But suspicion immediately fell upon Iran and its Lebanese proxy, the Hezbollah guerrilla group.
President Obama called it a “barbaric terrorist attack.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel convened security consultations. “All signs point to Iran,” Netanyahu said after Wednesday’s explosion.
There was no immediate comment from Iran. But Netanyahu and other Israeli officials pointed out that the bus explosion came on the 18th anniversary of a bombing of an Argentine Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds, an attack that Argentine prosecutors have blamed on Iran.
Bellicose adversaries, Israel and Iran have a long history of accusing each other of terrorist attacks. Iran has blamed Israeli agents for a string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists over the past five years, for which Iran has vowed revenge. Israel has accused Iranian agents of attacks on a range of Israeli tourists and diplomats in at least a half-dozen places around the globe.
“Over the last few months we have seen Iran’s attempts to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus, and other countries,” Netanyahu’s statement said. He called the pattern a “global Iranian terror onslaught, and Israel will react firmly to it.”
Just this week, a foreign national was arrested in Cyprus on suspicion of plotting a possible terrorist attack. Israel blamed Iran and Hezbollah for this as well.
In a statement, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak cited Iranian-backed militants and other radical Islamic groups as the likely perpetrators of the Bulgaria bombing.
“We are in a continual fight against them. We are determined to identify who sent them, who perpetrated [the attack], and to settle the account,” he said.
Israeli counterterrorism expert Boaz Ganor said Wednesday’s attack was “likely not the last in a series,” adding, “All this looks like Hezbollah, Iran, or a combination of the two.”
Despite repeated alerts and concerns of an Iranian-backed attack in recent months, Israel said it had no advance intelligence on a pending attack in Bulgaria.
The attack took place near the airport, shortly after a charter flight filled with Israeli youth landed at 4:45 p.m. local time.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he was briefed by his Bulgarian counterpart and informed that a bomb was planted in the bus as it was transferring tourists from the airport.