A convicted underworld boss was shot and seriously wounded in broad daylight outside a courthouse in Bulgaria's capital on Tuesday, sending panicked people on a busy downtown street scrambling for cover.
The shooter or shooters opened fire at around 9:30 a.m., probably from an apartment building across the street from the Sofia Courthouse, police said. Minutes after the shooting, a fire broke out at the top floor of the building, suggesting that the assailant or assailants may have set a fire to hide their tracks.
Zlatomir Ivanov and one of his bodyguards were both hit as they walked up the stairs to enter the court for an appeals hearing. The bodyguard managed to return fire but was wounded in the leg. Police said Ivanov was undergoing surgery after suffering four gunshot wounds in his legs, arm and stomach.
Ivanov, 44, was sentenced last year to eight years in prison after being convicted of leading an organized criminal group engaging in illegal drugs trade. He appealed the sentence and has been under house arrest since then to recuperate from earlier surgery.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, a former top cop, said that "the site gives easy access for a shooting," and added that if Ivanov had been in custody, he would have had protection.
"I have always claimed that persons who have first been sentenced will be much healthier if they stay in custody," Borisov said while addressing a meeting of businessmen at a hotel near the shooting site.
The prosecutor's office said in a statement that "such a brutal act of violence ... in an area of major state institutions and public buildings in a way threatening the life and health of many citizens is a matter of serious worry and concern."
Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, is still under pressure from Brussels to erase deep-rooted corruption and organized crime that has plagued the country more than two decades after it shook off communism.