Sofia police step up security near mosque after man mistaken for refugee seriously assaulted

Police in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia have stepped up security in streets nearby the landmark Banya Bashi mosque after a group of men in their 20s seriously assaulted a man they apparently mistook for a refugee and attempted to batter their way into a building housing refugees.

The victim of the assault, a Bulgarian of Turkish extraction identified in media reports as named Georgi “Metin” Dimitrov (28), remained in hospital on November 10 2013 in serious conditions, in a coma with severe head injuries.

Two men, aged 28 and 29, have been arrested in connection with the assault on “Metin” Dimitrov. Both are said to be from Sofia. Media reports said that about five to six men had been involved in the attack. According to the Interior Ministry, three further suspects are being sought.

Passersby who saw the assault, which took place just after 8pm, all called emergency number 112, reports said.

The assault of “Metin” took place after the group attempted to break into a building where migrants were living. They broke down the gates but the migrants managed to keep them from entering the building. The group moved off, encountering the Bulgarian and setting on him.

The attack by the group followed other recent xenophobic assaults in Sofia, one of an African woman near a tram stop and an earlier stabbing and beating attack of a 17-year-old Syrian refugee.

Bulgaria’s Chief Mufti, spiritual leader of the country’s Muslim community, condemned the assault on Dimitrov, who worked at the Iliyantsi market and at the mosque. The Chief Mufti urged Muslims to remain calm in the face of provocations.

Acts of violence against people, regardless of religion and ethnicity, were unacceptable and deeply objectionable, said the Chief Mufti’s office, which condemned the assault on the Bulgarian man on the night of November 8 as well as the earlier incident in which a Bulgarian shopkeeper was stabbed, allegedly by an Algerian illegal migrant.

Sofia police commissioner Ivailo Spiridonov said that there were constant patrols by police teams in the area near the central railway station, Pirotska and Tsar Simeon streets.

Since the significant increase in the number of refugees, many from Syria, coming to Bulgaria, the area near the mosque has become a gathering place for migrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

The previous week, anti-refugee and anti-migrant rallies by nationalists VMRO and ultra-nationalists Ataka were held in Sofia and Elhovo. Statements by people involved with the VMRO rally, including the party’s deputy leader, have led prosecutors to open pre-trial proceedings against six people for allegedly using racist hate speech.

Sofia Globe, 10 November 2013

See also “Bulgaria’s Grand Mufti calls Muslims to be vigilant, ignore provocations”, Focus, 10 November 2013