Unique to the European terrorism context is the case of Bulgaria, of which the majority of cases in our database are from the local Salafi Roma community. Salafism managed to take root amongst the most economically and socially disadvantaged community, provided by an informal Roma preaching ISIS sympathizer. The case of a radical religious preacher in the Pazardzhik community and of an illicit trade operation in shisha tobacco of an IS fighter of Bulgarian citizenship highlights the complexity of Islam radicalization in Bulgaria.

Adoption of Salafism is not widespread in Bulgaria, rather it is the particular case of the radicalized Roma community in the city of Pazardzhik. Bulgarians generally reject practicing Salafism, since it is not aligned with traditional Hanafi Sunni Islam professed by the majority of Muslim communities in the country. Rather, Salafism is embraced in the communities which are generally the most economically and socially disadvantaged- the Roma community.

Salafism and Islamic radicalization flourish where the transition to democracy and market economy had the most severe consequences. This took place in the Roma community in Pazardzhik. Recruitment into Salafi Islam usually targets young persons in the Roma community with addiction problems who are offered social support or informal jobs in the community. A core group of 50 to 60 Salafi followers are based in Pazardzhik, of which 14 of them demonstrated allegiances with the cause of IS. The motivating force behind the radicalized community is a self-proclaimed radical preacher.

The ISIS sympathizer Roma preacher recruited Islamic radicals in Pazardzhik and beyond. This individual preached both offline in Pazardzhik and online to followers in Germany and Austria.  As well, the preacher had contacts with radical Islamist circles in Austria and Germany dating back to the early 2000s. The radicalized preacher called upon his followers to fulfil their ‘religious obligation’ to join the ISIS army in Syria. The self-proclaimed radical preacher was tried and received multiple convictions; however, the impact of the radical teachings on the Pazardzhik Roma community remains.

Adding to the complexity of Islamic radicalization in Bulgaria is the case of a Bulgarian IS fighter who was involved in an illicit trade operation. The suspect was a high-ranking member of IS selling contraband pipe tobacco in Bulgaria and Western Europe. This individual is present in IS videos, including such displaying the defendant together with severed heads. This individual initiated an illicit operation trading shisha tobacco, reinforcing a crime-terrorism link.

Please read the full report prepared by Rositsa Dzhekova and Nadya Stoynova.