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Radical Islam threatens Russia’s republic of Tatarstan

October 31, 2012, 16:20 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, October 31 (Itar-Tass) — Tatarstan, an ethnic republic in the center of Russia with a population of about four million, is faced with the threat of radical Islam, experts say. They warn that Islamic fundamentalism is spreading in the area ever more rapidly and seems to be developing into a military phase. The local authorities have been taking no effective steps to stop this process. In a situation like this the federal authorities must intervene, they state with certainty.

In Kazan, special services last week prevented a major terrorist attack the Islamists had planned to stage on one of the main Muslim holidays – Kurban-Bayram. One agent of the federal security service FSB was killed during the operation to detain the group of terrorists calling themselves Mojaheddin of Tatarstan.

The killed militants are suspected of an assassination attempt against the Mufti of Tatarstan and the murder of his deputy. On July 19, 2012 the car carrying the chief of the Muslim Board of Tatarstan, Ildus Faizov, was blown up. By some miracle Faizov survived. And his deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, was gunned down inside the entrance to his apartment building. Both Ildus Faizov and Valiulla Yakupov were conducting a policy of de-wahhabization of the Muslim community (Umma). Both were struggling against religious extremists, and for that reason both had many enemies.

In Kazan, on the day of Kurban Bayram, the police detained another group of Islamists riding in cars flying black wahhabi flags of Al Qaeda.

Islamic fundamentalism in Tatarstan is entering a military phase, the chief of the Volga center of regional and ethno-religious studies of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Rais Suleimenov, told a news conference on Tuesday. The Rosbalt news agency quotes him as saying he does not rule out that on the eve of the student games due in Kazan in July 2013 terrorists may try to take hostages.

Suleimanov said the Islamic community in the republic was acting along three lines: “There is the combat wing, represented by the Mojaheddin of Tatarstan, the political wing – the organizers and participants in street protest actions (rallies, pickets and motorcades), and the lobbyist wing – representatives of the regional bureaucracy, which prevent the law enforcers from taking preventive measures against the Wahhabi community.”

Even after the special operation on October 24 the Islamists feel impunity in the republic, he said. Just two days after explosions and the shootouts in Kazan they staged a motorcade flying the flag of “a future Caliphate.”

“I am more than certain that there will follow no real consequences, except for insignificant administrative measures, against the participants and the organizers, because the sponsors from the Islamic lobby of Tatarstan will intervene,” he added.

The expert believes the regional elite hopes the more active the fundamentalists are, the greater the flow of investments from the Persian Gulf countries into Tatarstan will be.

The analyst is certain that time is ripe for the federal authorities to intervene. If no measures are taken now, the situation will get only worse and pose a far greater threat to the security of the republic’s population.

“At a time when the regional authorities are idle, may the federal authorities step in. In a situation like this it is the last resort,” Suleimanov believes.

The situation in Tatarstan began to aggravate back thirteen years ago, but the authorities still pretend the terrorist threat in the republic is a phantom, says expert Irek Murtazin, of the International Institute of Humanitarian and Political Studies. He warns that the ideas of radical Islam in Tatarstan are becoming ever more popular. The main reason is the preachers of traditional Islam – Salafism – in central Russia are seen by many, firstly and foremost, by young people, as the ideology offices of the Soviet era’s Communist Party committees.

“In their eyes traditional Islam supports the existing authorities and, consequently, bureaucracy and the officials’ arbitrariness,” Murtazin said. “The radical Islamists have been acting as an alternative to the existing religion, and in this way they recruit many followers.”

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, widely spread in Tatarstan’s universities are informal associations of Muslim students. Radical Islam is their ideology. Whereas just recently the activity of Muslim Brothers among the students of Kazakhstan’s largest institutions of higher learning was confined to the systematic introduction of Sharia laws at the universities, (halal food at canteens, prayer rooms, etc.), these days young people actively support the movement of religious radicals, who have stepped up their activity in Kazan in the wake of the July 19 attacks.

In Kazan alone over 150 young people representing three largest Universities in the capital city of Tatarstan are involved in the activities of Islamic student groups. According to experts, Islamists’ cells operate openly in 14 of Tatarstan’s 85 institutions of higher learning.

The chairman of the Ulema Council of the Russian Association of Islamic Accord, Muslim theologian Farid Salman, says the risk the radical segment of university students will become still more active is rather high.

“The government’s support for traditional Islam in Tatarstan remains inarticulate,” the expert says. “On the one hand the state professes solidarity with the traditionalists, but on the other, it does not dare ban rallies by radically-minded Muslims. Such an inconsistent position as a matter of fact gives the green light to their followers among student youth, which has been ever more bold to demonstrate its views.”