Still Europe’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack: 95 Years since the St. Nedelya Cathedral Bombing by Bulgarian Communists Funded by the Soviet Union

Still Europe’s Deadliest Terrorist Attack: 95 Years since the St. Nedelya Cathedral Bombing by Bulgarian Communists Funded by the Soviet Union

A photo showing the semi-destroyed St. Nedelya Cathedral in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia after the terrorist attack of April 16, 1925, by local communists sponsored by the Soviet Union, which killed a total of 213 people, many of them top officials or leading public figures. Photo via Wikipedia

On April 16, 2020, Bulgaria remembered the 95th year since what is still the deadliest single terrorist attack on European soil: the bombing of the St. Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia back in 1925 by communist terrorists sponsored and funded by the Soviet Union…

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In March 2004, in a gruesome reminiscence of the 9/11 Terrorist Attack in New York City and Washington, D.C., but on European soil, Al-Qaeda killed 193 people and injured more than 2,000 others in Spain’s capital Madrid, in the Madrid Train Bombing.

In July 2005, (the 7/7 terrorist) attack Al-Qaeda followed up with 2005 London Bombings killing 56 people and injuring more than 700 others in the UK capital London.

In July 2011, far-right extremist Anders Breivik killed 87 people, mostly youth, and injured hundreds in Norway.

In January 2015, again Al-Qaeda killed 17 people, and injured dozens in the Ile-de-France Attacks, including the terrorist attack against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in France’s capital Paris and its outskirts.

In November 2016, the Islamic State (ISIS) followed suit by killing 138 people, once again in Paris, in the Paris Attacks.

In March 2016, presumably the Islamic State killed 35 people and injured hundreds in Belgium’s capital Brussels, the so called Brussels Attacks.

In July 2016, the Nice Truck Attack in France, also ascribed to the Islamic State, killed 87 people and injured hundreds.

In December 2016, there was the Berlin Christmas Market Attack in Germany; in May 2017, there was the Manchester Arena Bombing in the UK; in June 2017, there was the London Bridge Attack also in the UK; in August 2017, there was the Barcelona Attacks in Spain. Each of those – committed either by ISIS or by other jihadists killed dozens and injured hundreds of people.

Present-day Europe has therefore, sadly, seen plenty of extremely bloody terrorist attacks, and that’s not even going back to earlier decades, with far-left, far-right, or nationalist terrorism in countries such as Italy, Spain, the UK, among numerous others.

Nonetheless, what still remains the deadliest terrorist attacks on European soil remains the St. Nedelya Cathedral Bombing – a terrorist attack against one of the largest churches in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia committed by communist terrorists directly funded and trained by the Soviet Union on April 16, 1925.

This 1925 photo turned postcard shows the blown up central dome of the St. Nedelya Cathedral in Sofia after the terrorist attack committed by the Bulgarian Communist Party at Moscow’s orders. Photo via Wikipedia

The St. Nedelya Cathedral terrorist attack killed a total of 213 people, and injured more than 500 others.

Not to mention that many of the victims were very high-profile as they were members of the Bulgarian government and political elite at the time.

The only terrorist attacks technically in Europe to have claimed more lives would be some aviation attacks, the two attacks against passenger planes in flight, the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Donbass in Eastern Ukraine.

Two Chechen and/or Islamist terrorist attacks in Russia – the Beslan School Siege in 2004 and the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis in 2002 (in the Dubrovka Theater, during the Nord-Ost play) – claimed more lives but saw complex unfolding of the respective events concerning the response of the security forces. The 1999 Russian Apartment Bombings claimed more than 300 lives but those were four attacks in three different cities.

In terms of the total count of people killed in a single terrorist attack on European soil, the St. Nedelya Church Bombing by communist terrorists sponsored by the Soviet Union remains unrivaled.

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Belogradchik Bishop Policarp is seen here serving a memorial service at the St. Nedelya Cathedral in Sofia for the victims of the 1925 terrorist attack, 95 years later. Photos: Vesela Ignatova, Bulgarian Patriarchate website

Amid the coronavirus lockdown, the 95th year since the St. Nedelya Cathedral Terrorist Attack was remembered in Bulgaria with a sermon in the cathedral performed by Belogradchik Bishop Polikarp which was opened to the public.

Once again, the St. Nedelya Cathedral terrorist attack killed a total of 213 people, and injured more than 500 others.

Not to mention that many of the victims were very high-profile as they were members of the Bulgarian government, the political, military, and intellectual elite, and the clergy.

Not to mention that it was committed on Maundy Thursday, during the Holy Week, preceding Easter.

Not to mention that it was committed during a funeral, the funeral of a military general who was himself killed deliberately by the same communist terrorists two days prior in a terrorist attack in order to set up the stage for the much large terrorist attack in one of Sofia’s largest cathedrals.

Not to mention that the Bulgarian Communist Party controlled by Lenin and later Stalin’s Bolsheviks in Moscow had been outlawed at the time.

Not to mention that it was committed by Bulgarian communists in order to overthrow the legitimate government of the then Tsardom of Bulgaria to turn the country into a satellite ruled directly by the Soviet Union (a goal actually achieved 19 years later, in 1944, through a military coup by same brand of communists as Stalin’s Red Army replaced Hitler’s Wehrmacht by occupying Bulgaria and all of Eastern Europe).

Not to mention that the Tsardom of Bulgaria, also known as the Third Bulgarian Tsardom or Third Bulgarian State (1878/1908-1944) – a reference to the First and Second Bulgarian Empires in the Middle Ages – had emerged only recently as a liberated and independent country of the Bulgarian nation, after some 500 years of Ottoman Yoke – having become partly liberated in 1878, and fully independent only in 1908.

Of the 213 people killed in what was the world’s most horrific terrorist attack at the time – the blowing up of the St. Nedelya Cathedral in Sofia in 1925 – 134 died immediately, killed by explosion or crushed by the collapsing rubble, while the rest lost their lives later, suffering agonizing deaths of their wounds sustained in the attack.

At the time, the St. Nedelya (meaning “Holy Sunday") Cathedral in Sofia was known as “Sveti Kral" (“Holy King") because since the 18th century it has preserved the relics of Serbian King St. Stefan Uros II Milutin (ruler of the Serbian Kingdom in 1282-1321 AD) (how those relics ended up there is a different, convoluted story).

The Cathedral has been known as St. Nedelya since 1930 when it was rebuilt after the communist bombing.

The St. Nedelya Cathedral in Sofia in 1922, before the 1925 bombing by the communists. Photo via Wikipedia

The St. Nedelya Cathedral in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia in 1925 after the terrorist attack committed by the communists who blew up its main dome. Photo via Wikipedia

The responsibility for the terrorist attack was assumed by the military wing of the Bulgarian Communist Party which acted at the orders and with funding of the Moscow-based Communist International, also known as the Comintern, and the military intelligence of the Soviet Union (Soviet Russia until 1922) in an attempt to destabilize Bulgaria and cause a “communist revolution" there.

At the time, the Bulgarian Communist Party was outlawed, after in 1923, acting again on orders from the Soviet Union, it staged the so called September Uprising, a botched revolt in rural Bulgaria, mostly in the central and northwest parts of the country, stirring up peasants disgruntled by hardship in the post-World War I period to try to overthrow the legitimate government.

The instigation of the September Uprising had led to major bloodshed during its suppression by the authorities.

The terrorist attack in the St. Nedelya Church was committed on Maundy Thursday during the memorial ceremony at the funeral of military general Konstantin Georgiev.

Gen. Georgiev himself had been assassinated two days earlier by two terrorist murderers from the Sofia terrorist group of the Bulgarian Communist Party led by Petar Abadzhiev.

Georgiev’s murder was an extremely impudent plot by the communist terrorists: they hoped that the general’s funeral would bring together as many representatives of the Bulgarian political and military elite as possible so that they can assassinate them.

Their main target was the 31-year-old Bulgarian Tsar Boris III (r. 1918 – 1943), a shrewd albeit hesitant constitutional monarch who later played a key role in the rescue of the 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. And who was indeed assassinated eventually, likely either at the orders of Hitler, or at the orders of Stalin.

The communist terrorists set off the explosives they had placed in advance in the roof of the middle dome of the St. Nedelya Cathedral at exactly 3.20 pm.

That was precisely the moment when Sofia Metropolitan Stefan was reading from the Gospel.

The middle, or main dome of the church collapsed right on top of the several hundred people inside.

Bulgaria’s head of state, Tsar Boris III, however, was several minutes late for the funeral of Gen. Georgiev, which saved his life.

Paradoxically, the Tsar got delayed at two other funerals of two of his aides killed during another terrorist attack attempt on his life two days prior, also by the communist party.

On April 14, 1925, five anarchists-communists used violence in trying to stop the Tsar’s vehicle in the Botevgrad Pass (also known as Arabakonak Pass) in the Balkan Mountains northeast of Sofia – although they are believed to have been actually trying to kidnap him. Gen. Georgiev was killed by another group of communists in Sofia on the same day.

The terrorist attack in the St. Nedelya Cathedral killed a total of 12 generals of the Bulgarian military, 15 colonels, 7 lieutenant colonels, 3 majors, 9 captains, 3 Members of Parliament, among others. Cabinet ministers were only lightly injured.

The responsibility for the terrorist attack was assumed by the military wing of the Bulgarian Communist Party which acted at the orders and with funding of the Moscow-based Communist International, the Comintern, and the military intelligence of the Soviet Union (Soviet Russia until 1922) in an attempt to destabilize Bulgaria and cause a “communist revolution" there.

Part of the organizers of the St. Nedelya Church Bombing – Dimitar Zlatarev, Petar Abadzhiev, and Nikola Petrov – manage to flee to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia) from where they escaped to the Soviet Union.

The plotters tried to kill their aide Petar Zadgorski to keep him silent but he managed to surrender to the police and confess.

The Bulgarian authorities managed to locate the leaders of the military organization of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Kosta Yankov and Ivan Minkov. The former was killed while trying to capture him, and the latter committed suicide before he could be caught.

The rest of the captured plotters were tried by a military court in Sofia between May 1 and May 11, 1925.

The memorial plaque on the southern wall of the St. Nedelya Cathedral for the horrific terrorist attack back in 1925. Photos: Vesela Ignatova, Bulgarian Patriarchate website

The highest-ranking of those was Marko Fridman, who confessed that the plotters of the terrorist attack had been receiving funding from the Soviet Union via Austria’s capital Vienna.

However, he claimed the attack was the responsibility of Kosta Yankov and Ivan Minkov, both of them already dead, arguing that they had acted without the consent of the leadership of the outlawed Bulgarian Communist Party.

Marko Fridman, Petar Zadgorski, and lieutenant colonel Georgi Koev were sentenced to death for the St. Nedelya Cathedral terrorist attack. Koev’s home was where both Ivan Minkov and Marko Fridman were hiding after the bombing.

The three terrorists were executed publicly through hanging on May 27, 1925, a month-and-a-half after the attack.

Here’s how the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church described the St. Nedelya Bombing in an address published its newspaper on May 2, 1925. It should be kept in mind that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church prior to 1944 could boast decent morals, in contrast to its state since it was gutted by the communist regime after 1944.

“With enormous grief we must underscored that the ugly act committed in the cathedral church has no equal in kind in the history of humanity. Prayer homes in various peoples since old times have been deemed holy and untouchable places, and many times they were the refuges of persecuted criminals where those would feel in complete safety because even their persecutors would consider it a sin to enter the holy place, to capture them, and to punish them. It has been precisely in such a holy and untouchable home of prayer, and on one of the holiest church holidays that the satanical apostates and misanthropes slaughtered hundreds of innocent souls with great treachery, and during a service…

However, it is not enough, beloved children, to be appalled by the ugly crime of the mad men who had lost their human form, and to thank God for the salvation He bestowed upon us. We must answer the questions: where is the root on which those bitter fruit thrive? Where is the source of these muddy, poisoned waters? Where are the causes of the fearsome wrongdoing committed with us, of which the name is not known even among the least enlightened, wildest peoples? Where is the guarantee that it will not be repeated, that it will not be reincarnated in some even uglier and more cruel form that would destroy Bulgaria?…"

A rather foreboding set of questions…

Present-day view of the St. Nedelya Cathedral. Its present architecture was created in 1930 when it was rebuilt after the communists’ terrorist attack in 1925. Photo: Vesela Ignatova, Bulgarian Patriarchate website

A view of the St. Nedelya Cathedral. Photo: Novinar daily

The barbaric communist terrorist attack in the St. Nedelya Cathedral intensified the violent political strife in interwar Bulgaria.

The revolts, assassinations, and terrorist attacks of the communists known as the “Red Terror" were followed by the government’s retaliatory measures.

During Bulgaria’s communist period (1944 – 1989), those measures to protect the country from a communist coup were described as the “White Terror", while The truth about the terrorist attack in the St. Nedelya Cathedral was hidden during the communist period in Bulgaria (1944-1989) in an attempt to erase the event from public memory.

The terrorist attack started to be officially remembered by the Bulgarian society, government, and church after the end of the communist regime.

As the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church suggested in its newspaper, correctly, as it turned out, and sadly so, the St. Nedelya Catherdral bombing was a foreboding of what was to come in 1944.

Towards the end World War II, while defeating Nazi Germany in Europe together with the United States and Britain, the Soviet Union finally managed “to cause a revolution" in Bulgaria by occupying the country and placing in power its loyal communists who committed mass murders and purges, set up concentration camps for “political" prisoners, imposing upon the country and all of Eastern Europe the botched, ill-fated, and utterly tragic model of Soviet communism.

Ivan Dikov is the author of 6 Million Abortions: How Communism Utilized Mass-Scale Abortion Exterminating Europe’s Fastest Growing Nation and Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together, among other books.

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