"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Friday, June 17, 2011

Russian imam is latest moderate Muslim murder victim

Clashes between Russian security forces and militants are frequent in Dagestan

Islamic radicals target the most influential, most educated people among traditional Islam

Concern is growing for prominent moderate Muslims in Russia's Dagestan region after an imam was shot dead days after the killing of an academic.

Unidentified gunmen shot Ashurlav Kurbanov near his mosque in the northern village of Mikheyevka, investigators said.

Maksud Sadikov, rector of an Islamic college in the regional capital Makhachkala, was killed last week.  Attacks on moderate clerics have been blamed on Islamist separatists.

Maksud Sadikov studied in Moscow
Two imams were also shot dead in April and between 13 and 50 Islamic religious leaders are said by observers to have been killed violently in the North Caucasus in recent years.

Sadikov had been rector of the Institute of Theology and International Relations since 2003.

He had sought to promote "good education" as a non-violent weapon in the fight against religious extremism.

One of the Sufi Muslim's projects was a translation of the Koran into Russian.

Regional analyst Alexei Malashenko told The Moscow News there was a civil war under way within Islam in the North Caucasus.

"Islamic radicals' targets are the most powerful, the most influential, most educated people among traditional Islam," he said.

Dagestan has been gripped by an Islamist insurgency since 1999, when militants backed by fighters from neighbouring Chechnya launched an offensive against Russian control.

Dagestan's deadly Islamic insurgency

BBC- Magomed has one of the most dangerous jobs in Russia. He is a policeman - in Dagestan.

"Police here are constant targets," he tells me as we drive through the capital, Makhachkala.

"Whenever I get out of the police car, I always wonder if the insurgents will see my uniform and will shoot me. Six of my colleagues have been killed this year. At night you won't find any policemen on the streets - we're all too frightened."

The roads are full of traffic, the streets bristling with pedestrians hurrying home from work. With its stunning backdrop of the Caucasus mountains on one side, and the Caspian Sea on the other, the place almost feels like the Russian Riviera. But an Islamic insurgency has turned a potential resort into a war zone.

Nearly every day, the rebels attack police and local officials. In one shooting spree last week, seven Dagestani policemen were killed. On Monday, a gunman burst into a hospital and murdered a traffic policeman who had been recovering in bed.

The Russian security forces respond by carrying out "special operations" in towns and villages across Dagestan. Acting on intelligence, they seal off streets, whole neighbourhoods, and open fire to root out rebel fighters.

'Foreign training'

"The aim of the extremists is to tear the Caucasus away from Russia," Dagestan's President, Magomedsalam Magomedov, tells me.

Magomedsalam Magomedov
They want to turn the whole region into an Islamic state based on sharia [Islamic] law but we will defeat them”.   -   Magomedsalam Magomedov,  President of Dagestan

"Many of them are mercenaries who've undergone instruction in Taliban training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"They have links to al-Qaeda and to other terrorist groups across the Caucasus which share the same goal.

"They want to turn the whole region into an Islamic state based on sharia [Islamic] law but we will defeat them."

Moscow sees this is as a battle it cannot afford to lose - not only if it is to retain control of the North Caucasus, but also provide security for the whole country.

In recent years, different parts of Russia have suffered acts of terror carried out by extremists from the Caucasus. Police say it was female suicide bombers from Dagestan who attacked the Moscow Metro earlier this year killing 40 people.

Police buildings blown up, human rights activists murdered, firefights in
Dagestan -- makes it clear that the insurgency there is far from finished,
despite Moscow's frequent claims of victory. Guerrillas are increasingly
 turning to suicide attacks.
 'There will be war'

Even the police admit the situation is out of control.

When I sit down with policeman Magomed and two other officers to talk about Dagestan, together they paint a bleak picture. They tell me about the sons of police chiefs who had become insurgents. One had driven a rebel commander round in his father's police car for a year. Another had ordered his own father's murder.

In this atmosphere of increasing brutality, the lines between religious extremists, mafia gangs and corrupt officials are blurred. One of the officers told me that on one occasion local police had pretended to be Islamic fighters so they could extort money from local businessmen.

At the end of our meeting, Magomed drives me back to my hotel. I ask the policeman what he thinks will happen in Dagestan.

"There will be war here, war!" he tells me.

"Don't expect anything else. It'll be the same as it was in Chechnya. No. It will be even worse. The war in Chechnya was simpler - it was a conflict between Russians and Chechens.

"Dagestan is such a multi-ethnic republic. When it all explodes here, you won't be able to restore peace between all the different peoples of Dagestan. Nobody will know who's fighting who. Not here. It will be a nightmare."

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