The video of the attack is shocking; the response -- in many quarters, at least -- has been mocking.
A menacing-looking man dressed in a black leather jacket leaps onstage as Bulgarian politician Ahmed Dogan is delivering a speech on live television to a party congress at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia.
The man points a small pistol point-blank at Dogan's head and appears to pull the trigger. Dogan flinches. The gun doesn't fire. Dogan swats at it and lunges toward the man as he tries to cock it again. A scrum of delegates and presumed security personnel tackle the man and attempt to subdue him.
The attacker is then kicked and punched repeatedly by a dozen or so onlookers. Uniformed police (or competent security personnel) are nowhere to be seen. The gun -- a gas-powered pistol -- lies on the floor. (Police said it had apparently misfired.)
The 58-year-old Dogan, the head of Bulgaria's Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party, was uninjured in the attack. The party represents ethnic Turks and other Muslims, who make up about 12 percent of Bulgaria's population.
The Bulgarian Interior Ministry said the attacker -- identified as Oktay Enimehmedov, an ethnic Turk -- had left a note saying he wanted to teach Dogan a lesson that he was not "untouchable," adding that he expected to be killed in the attempt.
A bloodied Enimehmedov, who was also reportedly carrying two knives, is eventually led away by security. He faces six years in prison.
(The incident calls to mind a September 2012 incident in which a man casually fired an air pistol point-blank
into the arm and chest of Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Klaus received treatment for bruising. The head of Klaus's security detail resigned
following the incident. The response of the police in Bulgaria has been similarly criticized
Now, however, the very authenticity of the attack against Dogan is being called into question by some observers and rival party leaders, with claims that the incident was staged in an effort to evoke sympathy and boost the image of the DPS ahead of parliamentary elections this summer.
Hinting at such allegations, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said he believed
the attack was "probably not staged." He told Bulgarian National Television that Dogan looked genuinely frightened by the gunman.
But "The Guardian" quotes
Ivan Dikov, the editor of the English-language Sofia News Agency, as saying: "It seems like [the gun pointing was] a pretty artificial attempt to present their party as a victim, to rally their voters, to strengthen their line. They have a lot to recover from."
Dogan, who has led the party with an iron fist for almost 25 years, was acquitted on charges of corruption two years ago. As "The Guardian" notes, the party has been plagued by accusations of political and economic malfeasance for years.
A statement released by the right-wing Order, Law and Justice (RZS) party alleges in no uncertain terms that the attack was staged:
"As we predicted, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms had to produce an unconventional news [event] and instead of Ahmed Dogan's withdrawal from the leader's post, we witnessed a melee, orchestrated at the highest stage of the [DPS]. This was a risky PR-move.... It can't be denied that Dogan is a good producer. During his long stay at his seraglio, he's been watching a lot of HBO movies and is trying to copy Tom Cruise."
Ivan Kostov, the leader of the conservative Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, also accused the DPS of staging the attack for political gain.
"This is not an assault, not an attempted murder, not an attack," Kostov said. "This is a political provocation and this is the true definition...the [DPS] will ride on this political provocation to do its election campaigning."
Anton Kutev, a deputy from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, also voiced his doubts about the authenticity of the attack, saying:
"Obviously, there was a lot of deep thought [behind the attack], but who is designing it and who is writing the script, that I can't tell. In any case, I think that the cause is deeply inside the [DPS]. Whether they come from gentlemen from the leadership or elsewhere, that I don't know. Obviously, this has been done just to make a stir."
An opinion poll
conducted by Alpha Research after the incident found that 56 percent of those surveyed believed the attack was a reflection of the DPS's internal problems.
As expected, Dogan resigned as DPS leader a few hours after the incident, retaining not only the title of honorary chairman, some believe, but also a strong influence in the party.
The date for parliamentary elections has not yet been set.
-- Grant Podelco and Tanya Kancheva