13 Bulgarian Roma on Trial for Alleged IS Support

Thirteen men from Bulgaria's Roma minority practicing an ultraconservative form of Islam went on trial Thursday charged with helping people join the Islamic State group in Syria and propagating extremist ideology.

The accused form part of a Wahhabi community several hundred strong in several cities set up by self-proclaimed Roma imam Ahmed Moussa Ahmed, 40, who was already sentenced to two years in jail in 2015 for inciting hatred on religious grounds.

They were pictured with black IS flags and T-shirts, shouting Islamist slogans and making the raised-finger IS "salute", state prosecutor Nedyalka Popova told the trial in the central city of Pazardzhik.

Their spiritual leaders also urged Muslims to be ready to wage war in videos released on the Internet, while some of the accused shared videos with IS executions on their profiles in the social media, Popova said.

The charge sheet also cited four instances when three of the accused gave transport, accommodation, food, phones and fake documents to would-be jihadist fighters passing through EU member state Bulgaria towards Syria.

The accused men, plus one non-Roma woman who allegedly worked as a translator, were arrested last March and face eight years in prison if convicted. It was unclear how long the trial would last.

The men, in long beards uncustomary among Bulgaria's 13-percent Muslim community, reject the charges. Defence lawyer Vasil Gechev said Thursday that the symbols were "linked to Islam in general".

Roma make up just under 10 percent of Bulgaria's population, around a third of whom are Muslim. Generally though they do not follow Wahhabism, the fundamentalist form of Islam supported by Saudi Arabia and which has been accused of inspiring IS.

Source: Agence France Presse

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