SOFIA, Bulgaria — Israel vowed to strike back at Iran for a brazen daylight bombing Wednesday that killed at least seven people on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
The bombing was the latest in a series of attacks attributed to Iran that have targeted Israelis and Jews overseas and threatened to escalate a shadow war between the two arch-enemies. Iran has denied involvement in the past but did not comment on Wednesday’s attack.
President Barack Obama termed it a “barbaric terrorist attack” and called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pledge U.S. help in finding the perpetrators.
The blast gutted the bus at the airport in the quiet Black Sea resort city of Burgas, some 250 miles east of the capital, Sofia, where the Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Tel Aviv carrying 154 people, including eight children.
Black smoke billowed into the sky from the stricken bus after the bomb exploded. Young Israelis said they were just boarding when the blast ripped through the white vehicle in the airport parking lot. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at least seven people were killed.
The resort town has become a popular travel destination in recent years for Israelis, particularly for recent high school graduates before they are drafted for mandatory military service.
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.
“All signs point to Iran,” Netanyahu said. “Just in the past few months, we have seen attempts by Iran to harm Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and more. This is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading across the world. Israel will react forcefully to Iran’s terror.”
The Israeli leader gave no evidence to back his charges.
Top Israeli security officials were holding consultations late Wednesday. The Israelis said they were still weighing their options on how to respond, and there were no preparations under way for an immediate reaction.
The officials said any reaction would probably be a pinpoint operation limited in scope, most likely under the auspices of the Mossad spy agency.
The officials said security officials also were concerned about further attacks, similar to a string of incidents in India, Georgia and Thailand earlier this year, and were reviewing security at potential Israeli targets, such as airline terminals and diplomatic installations.
The Bulgaria attack came exactly 18 years after the bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 85 people. An Argentine investigation concluded Iran was behind that attack. In addition, Israel has accused Iran of being behind a string of attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa in recent months.
The violence also came against the broader backdrop of the international standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. Israel, accusing Iran of developing nuclear weapons, has repeatedly hinted it is prepared to strike Iranian nuclear targets if Tehran does not curb its suspect program.
In the past, Iran has accused Israel of being behind a series of covert attacks on Iranian nuclear targets, ranging from the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists to mysterious computer viruses that have damaged Iranian centrifuges.
Israel has never admitted to involvement, but it and others have accused Iran of reprisal missions.