Russian Muslim 'catacomb sect' faces cruelty charges

A sect member stands at the gate of their house near Kazan, Russia, 8 August
Image caption Members of the sect could be seen at the gate of the house

Four members of a breakaway Muslim sect in Russia's Tatarstan region have been charged with cruelty against children for allegedly keeping them underground.

Police discovered 27 children and 38 adults living in catacomb-like cells in an eight-level underground bunker.

The sect's elderly leader, Faizrakhman Sattarov, had reportedly wanted to build his own Islamic caliphate beneath the ground.

Prosecutors said some of the children had lived there for more than a decade.

The sect was uncovered last week in a suburb of the city of Kazan during an investigation into recent attacks on Muslim clerics in Tatarstan, a mainly Muslim region on the River Volga.

Mr Sattarov, who had declared himself a Muslim prophet, has been charged with the crime of "arbitrariness", a broad crime that covers "actions contrary to the order presented by a law".

No immediate reaction to the charges was reported.

'Divine light'

Nineteen under-age children were removed by the Russian authorities, some of them placed in care, others in hospital, Russian government-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports.

Officials said the children, aged between one and 17 years, had never left the compound, gone to school or been treated by a doctor, and had rarely seen the light of day.

According to the Russian website Islam News, Mr Sattarov, 83, declared himself an Islamic prophet in the mid-1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from God.

He and his followers began to shun the outside world in the early part of this century.

The sect, dubbed Faizrakhmanists after their founder, reportedly do not recognise Russian state laws or the authority of mainstream Muslim leaders in Tatarstan.

Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the community to work as traders at a local market, local media report.

The cramped cells descend on eight levels under a decrepit, three-storey brick house on a 700 sq m (7,530 sq ft) plot of land, the Associated Press reports.

The house was built illegally and will be demolished, local police were quoted as saying.

Teachings rejected

Muslim leaders in Tatarstan said Mr Sattarov's views contradicted their own.

"Islam postulates that there are no other prophets after Muhammad," Kazan-based theologian Rais Suleimanov told the BBC.

"The teachings of Sattarov, who declared himself a prophet, have been rejected by traditional Muslims."

Mr Sattarov is said by Rossiyskaya Gazeta to be bedridden and delirious.

The crime of arbitrariness is defined as "unauthorised commission of actions contrary to the order presented by a law or any other normative legal act" and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

On 19 July, Valiulla Yakupov, chief of the educational department of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Tatarstan, was shot and killed at his home.

The same day, Mufti Ildus Fayzov, the head of Tatarstan's Muslims, was wounded when his car blew up. At least four arrests were made.

There was no suggestion that Mr Sattarov or his followers were connected to the attacks.

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