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“We have always been squeezed by DANS,” he said. “I don’t remember a year when I wasn’t called in for questioning — there were even some threats. They call you in, you sit on a chair, three or four guys surround you like you’re guilty of something.”

Security officials did not respond to requests for comment.

But a senior DANS official who asked not be named because he’s not authorized to speak to the media confirmed that intelligence agents have been keeping tabs on foreign religious donors since at least 2005.

“Everyone who goes abroad for training is monitored because he could be the so-called sleeper cell,” the official said.

He said there are troubling signs that Bulgarian Muslims are being exposed to radical elements, though he questioned whether there’s enough evidence to convict anyone.

“We’ve found literature for spreading jihad. There are all the signs for a Wahabist movement,” the security official said, referring to a conservative sect of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. “But there are no facts, no solid evidence that could hold up in court.”

The trial also has a political dimension.

Earlier this month, Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right nationalist party Ataka, which holds a few seats in parliament, called for a moratorium on mosques.

“We are traditionally an Orthodox country. That’s what it says in the constitution,” Mr. Siderov told Nova TV. “We hope there are enough patriots in the National Assembly to ban the construction of mosques.”

Mr. Siderov’s remarks reflect only a fringe of society, but it’s rhetoric like this that makes Bulgarian Muslims uneasy about their image.

In the 1980s, the communist government forced many Muslims to change their names. Mosques were closed, and head scarves for women were banned.

Deadly riots ensued, pressuring the government to open the border with Turkey in 1989. Some 300,000 Muslims — mostly ethnic Turks — fled to Turkey in what the parliament recognized this year as an act of “ethnic cleansing.”

These southern mountain regions remain very poor and politically irrelevant, says Mihail Ivanov, a former presidential adviser on ethnic policy.

“After 1989, the Muslims in the Rhodope Mountains became very disappointed that no one defends their interests,” he said.

So long as the state refuses to support its domestic Muslim population — in the same way Orthodox Christian schools are supported — Bulgarian Muslims will seek religious training elsewhere, he added.

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