Hackers deface Bulgarian church website over mosque attack

SOFIA Thu May 15, 2014 6:38am EDT

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Hackers defaced the website of Bulgaria's Orthodox Church on Thursday, accusing the organization of failing to condemn an attack on a mosque and underlining simmering sectarian tensions in the EU's poorest country.

An online group calling itself Milli Gucler ('national forces' in Turkish) briefly replaced the website's homepage with a Turkish flag and a message saying the minority Muslim population would be defended.

Many Bulgarian Muslims have roots in neighboring Turkey.

The hacking came three months after crowds hurled firecrackers and stones at a mosque in the city of Plovdiv, amid signs of rise in support for nationalist and far-right organizations in the build up to this month's European elections.

"Whoever was the organizer (of the mosque attack), he should know that the Turkish-Muslim minority is not helpless and that there are forces that are watching and ready to defend it," the statement posted on www.bg-patriarshia.bg/ read.

It appeared in the morning and appeared to have been removed soon after midday.

Most Bulgarians are Orthodox Christians while Muslims make up about 12 percent of the population, according to surveys.

Reports of a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers in the Balkan country, many of them from Syria, have provoked several anti-immigrant protests organized by far-right groups and an increasing number of racist attacks in recent months.

An Orthodox church spokesman said the organization had contacted the country's leading Muslim cleric, who also condemned the hacking attack.

"We should not allow such acts to affect the good relations between the Orthodox church and the Chief Mufti, as well as between the two religions," he said.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov and Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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