Thursday, September 20, 2012

Terrorist Islamist threat in Bulgaria, by Ioannis Michaletos

In July 2012 Bulgaria’s main tourism destination, the Burgas coastal city, was hit by a suicide bomber that killed a group of five Israeli tourists in the local airport, signaling the first attack of such type in the Balkans and bringing once more time into the surface, the issue of extremist Islam in the region, which has flourished over the past 20 years, especially in the Western Balkans.
Bulgaria’s issues with radical Islam have been noted for the past few years, although little media attention was paid until recently.

On October 2010, the “Sheikh Abu Sharif Aql”, spokesperson of the Jihadi group in the Middle East, named “Osbat Al Anshar” commented to the Bulgarian paper “24 Hours”, that “Bulgaria is a legitimate target for Jihadists due to its continuous support for USA and NATO forces both in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
His comments were delivered from the refugee camp (and paramilitary training ground) in Southern Lebanon in the Ain al-Hilweh cite, where he manages the group of Jihadists along with the head of arms for the group, “Haytham Abd al-Karim al-Saadi” also known by the alias “Abu Tariq”.
Osbat al-Ansar has carried out multiple terrorist attacks in Lebanon since it first emerged in the early 1990s. The group assassinated Lebanese religious leaders and bombed nightclubs, theaters, and liquor stores in the mid-1990s. The group raised its operational profile in 2000 with two attacks against Lebanese and international targets. It was involved in clashes in northern Lebanon in December 1999 and carried out a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the Russian Embassy in Beirut in January 2000, in protest of the Russian military campaign in Chechnya.
The group also, cooperated strongly in Iraq with the Musab al-Zarqawi’s group, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) by launching rocket assaults against US and Coalition troops. They have also hit targets in Northern Israel. During the Arab Spring one operative of the group was in Tunisia and currently the group has sporadically send fighters in the city of Homs in Syria to fight against Assad’s forces. Osbat is financed by Al Qaeda cells across the Middle East and affluent radical figures in the Arabian Peninsula.
The group internationally is recognized as a terrorist entity by:
-UK Proscribed Group: Yes
-Australia Specified Group: Yes
-Canada Specified Group: Yes
-Russia Specified Group: Yes
In the case of the EU (EU Specified Group: No) and that provides space for operatives from Osbat to venture into EU countries with much less restrictions than in UK, Australia and the rest of the countries above.
Regarding the October 2010 commentary, the Sheikh warned the Bulgarian government to get out of Afghanistan “before it is too late”, as he emphatically declared. This threat was actually received with attention by Sofia, since the head of the intelligence services of the country back then, General “Kircho Kirov”, noted to the press that such threats are taken seriously when coming from such an extremist organization, such as Osbat.
It is interesting to note, that in October 2010 the Bulgarian Defence Minister “Anyu Angelov”, had made known to the public that his country was about to send a 700 men battalion in Afghanistan. Until then Bulgaria was keeping in Afghani soil around 500 men mainly deployed in the Kabul and Kandahar airports as guard and patrol personnel. Thus, the move by Bulgaria to upgrade its involvement in the NATO force coincided with the threats by this dangerous Jihadi group.
Another interesting subject of interest regarding the whole case is that a few days after the threats by the terrorist group, the President of Syria Assad paid a cordial visit to Bulgaria. A view of some of the transcripts and announcements could be read here: (
The Osbat group is traditionally against Syrian policies. That may further explain the threats, by taking into consideration that in general in 2010, the Bulgarian-Syrian foreign relations flourished and certain important economic deals were reached, such as the debt deal, which can be accessed for further reading in the following link: ( During the Cold War era, Bulgaria had extensive arms deals and economic cooperation with Syria and according to several experts this ties continue up to day, albeit in an “unofficial” fashion, including arms trafficking of light weaponry. Lastly the vast majority of Arab-descent immigrants in Bulgaria (Legal and undocumented ones numbering around 30,000 people) is from Lebanon and Syria and quite a few of them are well-established and facilitate a wide range of bilateral trade and relations between the country and the Middle East.
In the aftermath of the attack in July 2012, the President of the “Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies” in Sofia, “Alex Alexiev” noted to the Focus press agency that, The suicide terrorist attack in Burgas will definitely damage the country and as a first example he cited the concerns for a drop in incoming Israeli tourism in the country. Moreover, when asked if there is an overall danger from Islamic terrorism for the country, he replied that it exists and it is increasing and also citing the worries of the American Embassy in Sofia in that respect. Alexiev also commented around the danger that Islamic-backed NGO’s represent for the country, in similar fashion as one can draw the conclusion with the recent experience of the Western Balkans. According to US sources there are around 400-600 young Bulgarians of Muslim faith that can be considered as radicalized Wahhabis. They keep in contact with Middle Eastern Wahhabi radical groups.
Another issue of importance for Bulgarian homeland security, regarding Islamic subversion is the direction of the Turkish police over the past decade to exercise the so-called “Neo-Ottoman” foreign policy dogma. Under this prism, Turkey spent more than 1.5 billion Euros per annum for the proliferation of Sunni Islam, and Bulgaria is of particular attention. Moreover the Fetullah Gullen movement is especially active in Bulgaria and regularly recruits young students from the country’s Muslim minorities. Although not involved in direct violent action, the social and educational subversion may facilitate the structures of a “parallel” Islamic society where the flourishing of extremist behavior cannot be excluded.