Bulgaria charges 13 with illegal Islamist activities

SOFIA: Thirteen Bulgarian men of the ethnic Turkish minority were charged with illegal Islamist activities on Monday, the prosecution announced.

The men are suspected of "setting up or participating in a local branch of the Saudi-based Al Waqf-Al Islami foundation", the prosecution said in a statement.

The radical Muslim group was active between March 2008 and October 2010 in the southern regions of Smolyan, Blagoevgrad and Pazardzhik, where it was "preaching anti-democratic ideology", it added.

The group's mastermind -- identified as Said Mehmet Mutlu -- and two of his accomplices also face charges of preaching the Salafite ideology of militant extremist Sunnis as well as being proponents of a Sharia law state.

A third count -- spreading religious hatred in Friday prayers at mosques, lectures, in sermons and other meetings was also added, prosecutors said.

If found guilty, they risk up to 12 years in prison, while their 10 other accomplices may be jailed for up to 10 years.

One of the men, Ahmet Ahmet, was once found guilty of spreading the radical Salafite ideology and given a three-year suspended sentence with a five-year probation period, the prosecution said.

About 13 percent of Bulgaria's population of 7.4 million are Muslims.

They come mainly from the country's 10-percent minority of ethnic Turks, plus smaller groups of Romas and the so-called Pomaks, Christians converted to Islam during Bulgaria's five-century Turkish domination.

A WikiLeaks cable published in July 2011 said the minority was very susceptible to extremist preachings due to its pervasive poverty, massive unemployment and widespread discrimination.

The graph, compiled in October 2005 by the US ambassador to Bulgaria at the time John Beyrle, said Muslim extremism was a real threat in the country where religious rights institutions were not vigilant enough.





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