A 21-year-old man appeared in Bulgaria’s Special Criminal Court on September 22 to face charges of undertaking firearms training with the intention of committing a terrorist act.
The man was arrested by police and State Agency for National Security agents in Sofia two days earlier.
The special prosecutor’s office was seeking a court order remanding the accused in custody pending trial.
Media reports about the man’s identity varied.
Bulgarian National Television said that the man was Bulgarian-born, with a Bulgarian mother and a Vietnamese father, but as holding no Bulgarian identity documents. Separate reports described him as having been born in Vietnam and having dual Bulgarian and Australian citizenship.
Prosecutors had questioned witnesses and had seized religious literature, records of his Facebook correspondence and personal documents, BNT said.
The man, identified in reports as John (Ivan) Zahariev, is said to have practised at shooting ranges in Sofia, Plovdiv and Voyvodinovo.
According to the indictment, Zahariev had intended to leave the country and carry out a terrorist act. Weapons used by Zahariev at shooting ranges included the Kalashnikov automatic rifle.
BNT said that the accused told the court that he had left Australia in January for Morocco, where he had a girlfriend. After that, he had come to Bulgaria with his father. His father had a pension from the United States, which would be liable to tax in Australia, and so he had come to Bulgaria.
The accused told the court that he had been a Muslim but had given up the religion two months ago.
He said that the religious literature found in his house had been there to help him conduct disputes on Facebook with Muslims that Islam is not, in his words, “a true religion”.
He said that if he had been training in the use of firearms in carrying out terrorist attacks, he would not have gone once a week. He said that he had not been to a shooting range for a month. He could not even load the firearm unassisted, he said.
Witnesses said that Zahariev had said that when he saw the rifle range targets, he imagined people. His lawyer told the court that this statement had been misinterpreted, in the sense that he was afraid to fire because he saw the targets as representing people.
Zahariev said that he had intended to leave Bulgaria, to continue university studies in Sydney, Australia and in Canada. He said that he had submitted admission applications to the universities. He had spent longer than intended in Bulgaria because the procedure for issuing personal documents was protracted.
He said that he wanted to work for the secret service in Australia “because he knew a lot about Islam”, reports said. He said that he had never been to Syria. No weapons or explosives had been found in his home. Prosecutors had made a mistake, he said.