A man boarded the stage and pointed a gas pistol at the head of a leading Bulgarian politician in front of a stunned party conference. Angry parliamentarians then pounced on the would-be assassin, beating him to a bloody pulp.
Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the Turkish minority MRF party, known as the kingmaker of Bulgarian politics, was delivering an emotional speech in which he was about to announce that he was stepping down as chief of the party he founded in 1990.
Local video footage then shows a tall, heavily-built man wearing a laminated badge, later named as Oktai Enimehmedov, running into view, before holding the pistol an inch away from Dogan’s face. Dogan flinches, Enimehmedov does not fire a round, and the politician rapidly regains his composure and pushes away the assailant’s hand. Security personnel then run onto the stage, and overwhelm the failed assassin. What follow are unedifying scenes of a swarm of furious politicians repeatedly kicking and punching Enimehmedov on the ground as blood streams from his head.
It is not clear if Enimehmedov planned to shoot, as he appeared to have sufficient time to pull the trigger before Dogan even noticed him, although it is also possible that his gun jammed at the key moment.
“Such an act is unacceptable in a democratic country. In the name of all Bulgarians, I want to convey the outrage caused by this act of violence,” said President Rossen Plevneliev, who urged the authorities to investigate who, if anyone, was behind the attack.
25-year-old Enimehmedov, an ethnic Turk who has previous assault and drugs convictions, was also found to have been carrying a knife. What seemed to be his conference pass was actually obtained at a previous party event.
Security appears to have been lax at the conference. There were no metal detectors at the door, and the National Protection Service, an official corps of top bodyguards that accompanies all leading politicians, reacted slowly.
Although his Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) is a moderate liberal party, Dogan himself, often referred to as “the Falcon” by his allies and enemies alike, is a polarizing figure.
A dissident who went to jail in Communist times for protecting the rights of Turks who refused to abandon their identity during the forced policy of Bulgarization, he was later outed as a police informer, who co-operated with the secret service for more than a decade.
A successful leader, who led the party to a record result of 14 percent in the last election, Dogan has also been accused of being intolerant of dissent within his party, and of using his position to secure lucrative “consulting” fees from large corporations.
His political opponents say he has divided Bulgarian politics along ethnic lines, and has used the party as his personal plaything, joining two ideologically different governments as a minority coalition partner since the turn of the millennium.
In fact, some opponents have already accused Dogan of “staging” the incident to garner political support, and swing the outcome of the party election in favour of his handpicked successor.
“Why did the security service act so unprofessionally? One possible answer is that we saw complete and utter incompetence; the alternative is that the National Protection Service was an accomplice in this staged incident,” said ultra-nationalist leader Volen Siderov.
The MRF conference is scheduled to restart this weekend.