By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
The Ebu Bekir mosque in the Bulgarian town of Pazardzhik that was a focus of a security operation against alleged radical Islamic terrorism is not under the jurisdiction of the Chief Mufti’s office and Ahmed Musa Ahmed, one of those arrested in the November 25 raid, is not an imam.
This was the message from the office of the Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of Bulgaria’s Muslims, which also reiterated its appeal to Muslims not to respond to calls from the “Islamic State”.
In September 2014, the office of the Chief Mufti in Bulgaria, where less than eight per cent of the 7.1 million population is Muslim, and then most of them Sunnis, issued a lengthy statement including the message that the taking of innocent human life, violence, terrorism were totally unacceptable, deeply objectionable and did not overlap with the principles of the religion.
The November 25 raids in four cities and towns in Bulgaria by the State Agency for National Security (SANS), police and prosecutors resulted in 24 arrests. By late on November 26, seven people, Ahmed among them, were facing formal criminal charges.
SANS head Vladimir Pisanchev told reporters on November 26 that this was not a cell of the “Islamic State”, but that it could have become one. SANS had monitored the activities of those taken into custody on November 25 for more than a year and a half before the operation and decided to act as soon as they identified the first signs of any attempt to recruit fighters for Islamic State and calls for jihad.
The Chief Mufti’s office said that none of those taken into custody and charged was its employee.
The office added a call to Bulgaria’s law enforcement authorities to make sure they did not instill, while executing their duties, fear and guilt in innocent people.
The Ebu Bekir mosque was built on private property and the Chief Mufti’s office had no jurisdiction over it.
Ahmed Ahmedov of the Chief Mufti’s office told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, “we do everything possible in order to have adequate controls and in the foreseeable future to establish some form of regulation in this temple of prayer.” So far, however, the mosque had acted alone.
Ahmedov said that Ahmed Musa Ahmed himself also was not appointed an employee in the denomination and no institutional status.
As to whether Bulgaria could become soil for Islamic fundamentalism, Ahmedov believes that the Bulgarian people would not accept this.
Ahmedov said, “We strongly appeal to the Bulgarian citizens and the Muslim community in particular not to respond to calls of the ‘Islamic state’.. it is an organization which we define as terrorist.”
At a joint news conference with SANS, prosecutors said that those in the organised crime group allegedly led by Ahmed Musa Ahmed had been charged with warmongering and preaching the anti-democratic ideology of the “Islamic State”.
The group was named as Angel Simov, Stefan Alexandrov, Svetoslav Manchev, Edjan Ismail, Stefan Dimitrov and Alexandrina Angelova, all Bulgarian citizens of Roma origin.
Deputy city prosecutor Borislav Sarafov said that the pro-war propaganda in which the group was involved had included a world map with the logo of the “Islamic State” and a caption reading: “Bulgaria will be the first Balkan country to fly the great black flag” (a reference to the flag used by the terrorist organisation).
Pisanchev rejected as untrue reports about Bulgarians fighting for the Islamic, and told reporters that no financing from the “Islamic State” for the group arrested on November 25 had been detected.
Bulgaria’s unicameral National Assembly was due on November 27 to be given behind closed doors by Pisanchev.
Meanwhile, Hussein Hafuzov, an MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity, many of them Muslim – told reporters on November 26 that the raid the previous day was groundless and he saw it as a political move made in support of the propaganda of “a certain political formation” – likely a reference to the Patriotic Front, the nationalist coalition currently supporting the government.
Hafuzov described Ahmed Musa Ahmed and the group around him as deeply religious, keeping to the principles of the Muslim faith and with the sole aim of developing the Muslim community in Bulgaria. Hafuzov said that he had no information that the group was involved in calls for violence.
Ahmed Musa Ahmed was the sole accused out of 13 to be given a jail sentence at the end of the 2012/2014 “radical Islam” trial in Pazardzhik. The others found guilty variously were given suspended sentences or fines. Ahmed Musa Ahmed is currently appealing against his conviction in that trial and in regard to the current case, denies wrongdoing.