The Special Criminal Court in Bulgarian capital Sofia has sentenced John “Ivan” Zahariev (21), an Australian and Bulgarian dual citizen, to four years in prison after finding him guilty of preparing to commit an act of terrorism.
The sentence was pronounced by the court on June 5, as a sequel to the arrest of Zahariev in September 2016.
Zahariev was arrested by police and State Agency for National Security agents in Sofia. He was said o have practised at shooting ranges in Sofia, Plovdiv and Voyvodinovo. According to the charge sheet, 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.
Zahariev, who pleaded not guilty, was said in the indictment to have travelled in 2013 from Sydney to Syria with the intention of joining a terrorist group.
He went to a base of the Free Syrian Army, where, it was alleged, he began training to handle a Kalashnikov.
He was not accepted by any rebel organization because he did not have the necessary combat training, the court was told.
Brought up as a Christian, he became a Muslim, but in 2015 converted back to Christianity, his counsel told the court earlier. Zahariev said that he had been in Syria five years ago, but only to see what he could do to help people. The court was told that Zahariev had come to Bulgaria because his father was retiring in the country.
Reports said that Zahariev was taken into custody after Bulgaria received a tip-off from Australia’s intelligence service.
The conviction is the first of its kind in modern Bulgaria.