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Radical Islam spreading in troubled North Caucasus

Country/Region: Central Asia

A Russian expert on Islam has raised concerns about the spread of Wahhabism, an extreme and puritanical version of Islam, in the North Caucasus, where Christians have come under attack.

Roman Silantyev said that the number of people "assisting and sympathising" with Wahhabis in the North Caucasus was "in the hundred thousands"; most of the Wahhabis, some 30,000 people, live in Dagestan, with around 10,000 in Ingushetia.

20110422-martyrs-4X3.jpg
Christian pastor Artur Suleimanov
was shot dead in the North Caucasus last July

He said the percentage of Wahhabis among Muslims in the North Caucasus was between 10 and 15 per cent, compared to no more than five per cent among Muslims elsewhere in Russia.

The percentage of radicalised clergy is thought to be much higher because Wahhabis direct their efforts at imams. Mr Silantyev said many imams preached extremists views "out of fear for their life"; dozens of moderate Muslims who have opposed Wahhabism have been killed in the North Caucasus. He said more effective physical protection was required for traditional Muslims as well as more effective force to remove extremists.

Wahhabism is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, which is one of the most conservative Sunni Muslim countries in the world. Saudi Arabia propagates Wahhabism vigorously all over the world.

Islamist insurgency

The North Caucasus has been rocked by a growing militant Islamist insurgency; radicals are fighting to establish a separate state ruled by sharia. In January 36 people died in a suicide bomb attack at Moscow's busiest airport. Responsibility was claimed by the leader of the militant Islamist insurgents in the North Caucasus.

Christian leader Artur Suleimanov (49) was gunned down as he got into a car outside his church in Dagestan last July. His assassination was seen as an attempt to intimidate converts from Islam in the strongly Islamic republic. Mr Suleimanov, himself a convert from Islam, was very active in outreach to Muslims.

In November last year, three churches in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia republic were torched by arsonists on the same night. A senior church leader described the attacks as "well-orchestrated provocation" intended to "destabilise inter-religious harmony".

Christians in the North Caucasus face regular harassment, intimidation and discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority.

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