Attacks target voices of moderate Islam in central Russia
Attacks in Russia's Tatarstan republic today killed one Muslim cleric and seriously wounded a second, underscoring a rising threat to a moderate brand of Islam.
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Chechen Islamist leader Doku Umarov, who styles himself "emir" of the north Caucasus "caliphate," is blamed for organizing at least two bloody terror attacks in Moscow, including twin suicide bombings in the city's crowded metro in 2010, and another deadly suicide bombing in Moscow's Domodedovo airport the next year.Skip to next paragraph
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Militant call to focus on Tatarstan
According to Russian experts, Mr. Umarov issued a religious decree last year calling on north Caucasus militants to focus on Tatarstan and other areas with concentrated Muslim populations such as Bashkortistan, to move there and begin destabilizing operations.
"It is not by chance that these attacks happened today, on the eve of Ramadan," says Mr. Suleymanov. "Local Muslims are stunned, shocked, and terrified. People are even scared to come to a mosque.... The radicals want to demonstrate that they are already a force, and to intimidate moderate leaders. What they really want is to say to the state is: We conduct terrorist acts to show that we are strong, we can dictate, and you have to make concessions."
Experts say that the oil-fueled prosperity that made Euro-Islam look attractive a decade ago has petered out, while militants from the north Caucasus can point to Chechnya as an alternative model where military confrontation with Moscow ultimately resulted in a local regime where sharia law effectively trumps the Russian Constitution.
A decade ago Chechnya was in ruins following two futile wars to win independence from Russia. Today, Chechnya is undergoing a stunning rebirth, largely bankrolled by a Kremlin that's happy to pay for the appearance of peace and careful to keep its nose out of the republic's internal affairs.
"For a long time, it looked like Tatarstan was the best model for a Muslim republic within Russia to develop its national statehood," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
"But now, Tatarstan's mild, multiconfessional model looks vulnerable. A new generation of Muslim clerics, trained in Saudi Arabia, regard the older generation as traitors. The benefits of the Tatar model are receding. Euro-Islam may have worked at a time of economic growth, when everyone was happy. But now with economic problems multiplying, radicalization is taking place.... This crisis has been simmering under the surface for a long time," he adds.
For Moscow, Thursday's attacks hint at the spread of north Caucasus-type instability to Russia's own Volga heartland.
"The basic problem in Tatarstan is the erosion of popular support and loss of trust to the official religion," says Alexei Vlasov, director of the center for the study of social and political processes in the post-Soviet space at Moscow State University.
"We saw the very same kind of process unfold in the northern Caucasus in the 1990's, and we know what it led to. There are good reasons to fear that a similar process is going on now in Tatarstan," he adds.