Alex Alexiev, Chairperson of the Executive Council of the Centre for Balkan and Black Sea Studies in Sofia, shares his view on what lies behind the terrorist attack in Burgas, in an interview for Focus News Agency.
Focus: Mr Alexiev, as a specialist on radical Islam, what is your opinion on the terrorist attack in Burgas?
Alex Alexiev: You do not have to be a big specialist to point out the obvious, i.e. that this is really a terrorist act on the territory of Bulgaria, which will have negative political and economic consequences for the country. For example, this could lead to a probable downturn of the number of Israeli tourists, for whom Bulgaria had turned into a very attractive tourist destination.
Focus: The Israeli authorities immediately accused Iran and Hezbollah for carrying out the terrorist attack in Burgas. Do you agree with this statement?
Alex Alexiev: It would be very difficult to controvert the Israeli theory, as they are vastly experienced in this area. Their theory is supported by the number of unsuccessful attempts for terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens recently, in Baku and Bangkok for example. In the latest such case, a potential suicide bomber from Hezbollah was arrested in Cyprus – this happened about a week ago. We must not forget that both Iran and Hezbollah are deeply connected in a not-so-secret war against Israel, aiming at the annihilation of Jewish people, as Ahmadinejad [Iranian President] and Nasrallah [Secretary General of Hezbollah] have time and again stated publically.
Focus: Does that mean that the participation of Sunni terrorists is excluded?
Alex Alexiev: It is still too early to make such a statement with absolute certainty. This is exactly what Ehud Barak said yesterday.
Focus: At the moment, the most plausible version seems to be that the terrorist attack was carried out by an Islamic suicide bomber. Do you think that this attack was really a result of the work of a lone wolf, as this expression is often used in the West recently?
Alex Alexiev: The “lone wolf” theory in terrorism is an extremely nonsensical and harmful theory, and it is backed by people, who want to prove, by all means necessary, that radical Islam does not exist as an ideology of terrorism, but rather separate jihadists have somehow self-radicalised themselves. In all the cases, which I am aware of, these people, even if they did act alone, had first been radicalised under the influence and in an environment of radical Islam and its institutions.
By the way, this absurd theory is being zealously spread in Bulgaria, as well. Several months ago I was invited to read a lecture on the ideology of radical Islam in the New Bulgarian University. After my lecture, a professor stood up and “defended” his dissertation that radical Islam did not exist, in general, let alone in Bulgaria, and that the Sharia, which clearly preaches violence against non-Muslims, was a well-meaning religious doctrine, and other such nonsense. I am truly sorry that Bulgarian students are the subject of such a filthy propaganda in a Bulgarian university with good reputation.
Focus: We reached the topic of radical Islam in Bulgaria. Does it exist, and how is it expressed?
Alex Alexiev: It not only exists, but is also developing rapidly, and becomes a graver danger for the society, despite the fact that most of the Muslims in Bulgaria are very modest and well-tempered people, who do not succumb to religious fanaticism. Just check how many Bulgarian citizens were recently arrested in Bulgaria and in the Czech Republic for participation in Islamic groups. You can read the cable of the U.S. Embassy in Sofia on the topic (published by Wikileaks on December 15 2011), which concludes that “Islamic extremism in Bulgaria is a very serious concern.”
Focus: Are our security services aware of this threat?
Alex Alexiev: Yes, they are very well aware of it. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with experts from the State Agency for National Security (SANS) and my impression was that their professionalism was at a very high level. It is a totally different question whether the Bulgarian politicians are aware of the threat.
Focus: What are the specific dangers for radicalisation of the Muslims in Bulgaria?
Alex Alexiev: This is a very vast topic for an interview, but I will mention some of the factors briefly. After the fall of the communist regime, many Islamic NGOs appeared in Bulgaria, including Al Waqf-Al Islami, Al Irshad, Taiba, and etc., which propagated Islam with saddlebags full of money. Roughly around the same time, there was a rapid surge of emigration from the Middle East to Bulgaria, mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Currently there are between 15,000 and 20,000 people from three countries living in Bulgaria. Most of them are ordinary people, but according to the U.S. intelligence, between 2% and 8% of them have Wahabi and extremists visions and often act as Islamists missionaries. The thousands of Bulgarians, who return to Bulgaria after being brainwashed, after receiving scholarships by Islamists universities and institutes in the Arab World, are also a very worrying factor. Most of these people reject the traditional and moderate Bulgarian Islam of their parents and become de facto The Fifth Pillar of Islam in Bulgarian villages.
Last but not least, currently the gravest danger for Bulgaria comes from Islamism from Turkey, which is trying vigorously to expand its influence on the Balkans and elsewhere, through the doctrine of neo-Ottomanism. This doctrine reads that the pro-Western period in the history of Republic of Turkey, initiated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was a disaster for the country, in comparison with the Ottoman period, which was great and mighty, and had to be restored. This allows the author of the neo-Ottomanism, the famous Islamist and current Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey – Ahmet Davutoglu to claim that the 16th century was the golden century on the Balkans. This is not only a gross delusion of the history of the Balkans, and of Bulgaria in particular, but also of the history of the Ottoman Empire. It is a well-known fact that after Sultan Suleiman I was defeated in his quest to conquer Vienna in 1529, the Ottoman Empire started a period of gradual decline, from which it never managed to come out. One of the main factors behind this decline was the gradual radicalisation of Turkish Islam in the 16th century, a period, which the famous Turkish historian – Halil Inalcık characterised as a “triumph of fanatism”.
In order to understand what this means for Bulgaria, you should just recall that before Erdogan and the Islamists came to power in Turkey, the Presidency of Religious Affairs – The Diyanet, had a budget of EUR 300 million, and its main purpose was to fight against radical Islam in Turkey and among Turkish societies abroad. Currently it has a budget of EUR 1.5 billion and its main task is to spread the Islam, including in Bulgaria.
Focus: Does all this mean that there could have been Bulgarian involvement in the terrorist attack in Burgas?
Alex Alexiev: I would not be the least surprised, if it turned out to be so. If a Bulgarian citizen (Toni Radev, who was a Bulgarian Mohammedan) can take part in the Madrid train bombings on March 11 2004, why could that not happen in our own country? The top priority at the moment is to understand what the nationality of the attacker is, and whether he received assistance from any locals. If he was a foreigner, it would be hard to imagine that he could carry out this terrorist act without any co-operation from foreign or local Islamic groups. If it turned out that he was Bulgarian, the authorities and special services should very quickly find out where he was radicalised. In any of the cases, a simple fact will once again become clear, although it should already be clear to everyone, that radical Islam is a misanthropic ideology, which represents a lethal threat for the civilised world.
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