- Australian P.M. Abbott: MH17 evidence tampered with on ‘industrial scale’
- Rep. Luis Gutierrez tells Hispanics to vote and ‘punish those’ who oppose amnesty
- Country singer Tim McGraw not sorry for slapping female fan: ‘Things happen’
- Iraq vet cited for owning 14 therapeutic pet ducks
- White House takes credit for drop in unaccompanied children at border
- International crises be damned, Obama’s fundraising trip must go on
- Friend of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev found guilty of impeding probe
- Train with MH17 plane crash bodies leaves rebel town in Ukraine
- Half of Colorado voters are OK with Hobby Lobby decision, poll shows
- HIV-killing condom to soon hit shelves in Australia
Imams’ trial tests Bulgaria’s religious tolerance
Question of the Day
PAZARDZHIK, Bulgaria — Thirteen religious leaders accused of preaching radical Islam face up to five years in prison in a criminal trial that’s testing the limits of religious freedom in this European country.
Prosecutors say the Saudi-financed activities of the imams have been spreading religious extremism and that they have used a local soccer team to indoctrinate boys.
But local officials say the accused ringleader, Said Mutlu, 49, who ran an imam school in the village of Sarnitsa, has done nothing wrong and the case is slandering the Muslim community.
“Terrorists, terrorists — that’s what people know about Sarnitsa,” Mayor Mustafa Alikantov said. “It’s not true that he was espousing anti-democratic views.”
Prosecutors allege that three of the imams were undermining the state by encouraging people to boycott parliamentary elections and spreading religious hatred.
The other 10 are implicated in working with Al Waqf al Islami, a Saudi-financed charity that built mosques, sent boys on trips to the Middle East and financed religious education in Bulgaria that prosecutors say embraced the Salafist brand of fundamentalist Islam.
The Bulgarian government closed Al Waqf al Islami in 2003, but prosecutors say the 13 accused continued its work without a license.
(Corrected paragraph:) The trial, which resumes Monday, is a test for Bulgaria on whether this former Soviet bloc country will criminalize religious association.
It has been sensationalized in Bulgarian media, with photos of sympathetic demonstrators being branded “jihadis” and “Taliban.”
Regardless, large groups continue to demonstrate silently outside the central courthouse in Pazardzhik during each court hearing, holding banners and placards.
Unlike the majority of Bulgaria’s Muslims, the people in these southern districts of the country are not ethnic Turks. They call themselves Bulgarian Muslims and have little affinity to neighboring Turkey.
This mountainous region has seen many of its mines shuttered, and many of its inhabitants eke out a hardscrabble existence by cutting timber and farming potatoes.
One of the accused, Hayri Sherifov, runs the central mosque in the mountain town of Rudozem. He says he studied Shariah, or Islamic, law in Saudi Arabia on a scholarship to train imams because there were no such opportunities in Bulgaria.
“These people have needs. They need someone to teach them religion,” Mr. Sherifov said.
Upon his return, he says he found himself under suspicion by Bulgaria’s internal security agency, DANS.
TWT Video Picks
U.S. appetite for drugs begets violence migrants are fleeing
- IRS seeks help destroying another 3,200 computer hard drives
- Jewish woman booted from JetBlue flight over fight with Palestinian
- Edward Snowden to work with Russia on anti-spy technology
- YOUNG: A sinking presidency, deeper after November?
- PRUDEN: A deadly enemy within exacerbating immigration crisis
- Rihanna, Dwight Howard delete #FreePalestine tweets
- U.S. scrambles as violence escalates in Israel-Hamas conflict
- Ron Paul: U.S. partly to blame for Malaysia Airlines disaster
- MERRY: Handicaps in Hillary's way
- EDITORIAL: Snipers from the left target Hillary
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq