Bulgarians rally ahead of ‘extremist’ Muslims’ trial
Bulgarian imams are seen before the start of the trial in Pazardzhik. REUTERS photoA trial against 13 Bulgarian Muslim religious leaders, that include some Turks, for preaching a radical form of Islam heard witnesses Oct. 29, while nationalists demonstrated at the court in the southern town of Pazardzhik to protest “Muslim pressure” on its work.
The 12 men and one woman, imams, mufti Islamic scholars and teachers, have been charged with founding a local branch of the extremist Al Waqf-Al Islami group in the southern regions of Smolyan, Blagoevgrad and Pazardzhik, Agence France-Presse reported. The organization is suspected of links to al-Qaeda.
They include Turks, Muslim Roma and Pomaks, like the accused, whose Christian ancestors were forced to convert to Islam during the country’s Ottoman domination between the 14th and 19th century.
The 13 were charged with preaching a radical anti-democratic ideology based on hard-line Salafi teachings during prayers at mosques, lectures, sermons and cafe meetings between March 2008 and October 2010 and with seeking to impose a caliphate state. All defendants have pleaded not guilty and several witnesses have so far refused to confirm their initial written testimony.
Trial may trigger tension
“We want to avoid conflicts,” Bulgaria’s deputy chief mufti Birali Birali, who was present at the hearing, said. A key witness, who once worked for the Al Waqf-Al Islami foundation also rejected his testimony on Oct. 29. Muafak al-Assad, a Syrian national who once studied in Bulgaria, also said he was pressured by state security agents to refuse an interpreter and not to appear at the trial at all. Three protected witnesses called by the prosecution were also due to testify later Oct. 29.
About 300 nationalists, meanwhile, demonstrated at the court with Bulgarian flags and signs reading “Bulgaria is a secular state” to protest what they said was “Muslim pressure” over the court during its previous hearings. Most experts warned that the trial risks raising tensions between Bulgaria’s Christian majority and the Muslim minority.