Today, unknown assailants have attacked two outspoken critics of Wahhabi/Salafist Islam in Kazan, capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. Valiulla Yakupov, Tatarstan’s Deputy Mufti, was shot and killed as he left his home, whilst elsewhere in the city the Chief Mufti himself - Ildus Fayzov – was seriously injured as a car bomb tore his vehicle apart. Although nobody has yet claimed responsibility for these attacks, it is a near certainty that they were perpetrated by Salafist militants, angered by the efforts of these two men to combat a growing trend towards Quranic literalism and the call for violent Jihad that has been gaining traction in the republic. It seems symbolic that the attacks took place upon the eve of Ramadan, as if emphasising that the attackers regarded them as false Muslims.
Izvestia reports that “Spetsnaz are conducting an operation to detain the presumed killers” and reveals some interesting background information on the two victims. Fayzov only took up his position in April 2011, succeeding Gusman Iskhakov who, according to “the unofficial version” was held to be “leading an insufficiently rigorous policy in relation the republic’s radical Islamists”, whereas Fayzov “took a hard-line and principled position on this question.” Fayzov and Yakupov in this respect were cast from the same mould, and shortly before his death, Yakupov told the paper that he was “alarmed at the growing influence of followers of radical currents of Islam amongst the republic’s Muslims.” He believed that these influences were primarily of foreign origin, stating: “Dozens of people go abroad, who then return to the republic and act as influential agents: actually recruiting new people and sending them abroad.”
There thus seems to be a clear motive for the attacks, with the Islamists wishing to use violence to silence those who advocate a peaceful interpretation of Islam, with a view to further radicalising and polarising the situation within Tatarstan. However, although Yakupov and many others have made reference to a very real foreign role in generating this phenomenon, there is also the Caucasus to take into consideration, which has acted as an incubator for Salafist radicalism these past two decades. Self-styled ‘Emir’ Doku Umarov has been attempting to create what he terms a “Caucasian Emirate” and, according to Nezavisimaia gazeta, has also called for “mujahideen” to “resettle in the Volga region so as to call local Muslims to jihad.” The Chechen Islamist also wishes for Tatarstan to secede from Russia and to become part of a “Greater Caucasian Emirate”. Such people are said to have settled in Tatarstan and are playing an active role in pushing Salafism, with the consequence that experts now believe that no less than 10 of Kazan’s 50 mosques now effectively lie in their hands.
As outlined on this blog last year, officials in Tatarstan have grown increasingly worried about the growth of violent Islamist militancy for quite some time, as reflected in a piece on the republic run by Nezavisimaia gazeta entitled ‘A whole Generation of Extremists’, for it is amongst the younger generation in particular that Salafism is exerting the greatest appeal. This revealed that a considerable number of individuals had visited Pakistan and Afghanistan where they participated in violent jihadist activity before returning home with a view of attacking domestic targets.
Although Tatarstan as of 2010 had a population of 3.8 million, of which only 53.2% were Tatars (traditionally Sunni Muslims), experts consider that there are no less than 3,000 Islamist radicals in the republic, of which approximately 10% are “ready to take up arms and wage jihad, and the remainder to sponsor and help them in any way”. This figure is roughly equivalent to the number of Islamist radicals reputedly being monitored in the UK. For a territory as small as Tatarstan, this figure is quite remarkable, and today’s killings are not the first that have been perpetrated by jihadists on its soil. In November 2010, three Islamist militants believed to have planted a bomb beneath the car belonging to the Director of Tatarstan’s branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) Centre for Countering Extremism, were tracked down and killed in Nurlat’skii District. In the five-year period leading up to 2011, more than 100 people in Tatarstan had been sentenced for their involvement in terrorist and extremist activity.