Radical Islam case unites Muslims in Bulgaria

19.09.2012 - 11:08

Over 300 people dressed in typical Muslim clothing gathered on 18 September in front of the courthouse in the Bulgarian town of Pazardzhik, just before the beginning of the hearing, concerning the spread of radical Islam and imposition of Sharia state law. It was held under heavy police surveillance and only a few people from the gathered crowd were allowed to be present in the court building during the hearing.

Buses full of Muslims from Blagoevgrad, Smolyan and Pazardzhik areas arrived in the town of Pazardjik in support of the defendants. The chief mufti, Mustafa Haji, was also in town in relation to the court process. However he was also not allowed to enter the court room. Thirty witnesses and ten expert witnesses were questioned during the hearing.

The indictment act of the Regional Prosecutor Office in Pazardzhik was submitted on 18 June and it concerns thirteen Muslim clerics accused of preaching radical Islam. Twelve men and one woman - imams, muftis and preachers, were charged with opening a local branch of the militant group "Al Waqf-Al Islami” in the southern regions of the Bulgarian towns of Smolyan, Blagoevgrad, Pazardzhik. The Netherlands-based organisation is sponsored by Saudi Arabia and is suspected of having connections to the international terrorist network 'Al Qaeda'.

According to the prosecutors, the defendants had been preaching radical ideology, based on Salafi doctrines, during prayers in mosques, lectures, sermons and meetings in the period March 2008-October 2010. The charges against them were read one by one, while pursuant to a check made by the court, all thirteen accused were paid a certain amount for executing the above-mentioned ‘services’.

The main culprit is Said Mutlu. According to the court, he was the head of an unregistered by law organisation whose goal was preaching anti-democratic ideology and religious hatred. Mutlu had to administer the organisation’s activity, while money was obtained entirely from Saudi Arabia in cash and no bank transfers were used. The channels of cash import in Bulgaria included people visiting the holy places in Saudi Arabia, educated in Saudi students who return to Bulgaria, or the chief mufti's office employees who visited Saudi Arabia.

The indictments against each of the thirteen defendants were read during the court hearing. The first three were charged with preaching of anti-democratic ideology, management of unregistered by law organisation and advocacy of hatred based on religion. All other defendants were charged with membership in unregistered by law organisation and dissemination of anti-democratic ideology. None of the defendants pleaded guilty.

The next court hearing is scheduled for 26 September at 9:00 am.