Bulgarian forces raid homes and mosque, detain prayer leader

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2014 12:16 PM

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian security forces raided over 40 homes and a mosque in southern Bulgaria on Tuesday to seize books and computers in a special operation aimed at uncovering radical Islamist activities.

The popular private bTV channel showed armed police detaining Muslim prayer leader Ahmed Mussa at a mosque in the city of Pazardzhik, while local media said several other people were also detained.

The operation was part of a pre-trial investigation of crimes linked with anti-democratic ideologies and incitement to violence, the State Agency for National Security said in a statement.

"Some 40 addresses have been searched so far and numerous pieces of evidence seized," it said.

The agency and the prosecutors' office declined to provide further information or give the number of people detained during the raids in the cities of Pazardzhik, Plovdiv, Smolyan, Haskovo and Asenovgrad.

Mussa was sentenced to a year in jail for spreading radical Islam last March in a case seen as a test for the delicate relations between the country's minority Muslims and Orthodox Christian majority. He was free pending appeal.

A former Christian who converted to Islam in 2000 while working in Vienna, he was convicted on the same charge in 2003.

Bulgaria is a rare European Union country where Muslims are not recent immigrants but a centuries-old community, mostly ethnic Turkish descendants of Ottoman rule that ended in 1878. They make up about 12 percent of the 7.3 million population.

Mussa's trial in March revived memories of the 1980s when hundreds of Muslims were forced to change their names to Bulgarian ones. More than 300,000 left the country as a result of a campaign by late communist dictator Todor Zhivkov to revive mainstream Bulgarian culture.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Tom Heneghan)