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Nalchik Authorities Launch Wahhabi Witch-hunt

Police say the Wahhabi religious cult is targeting young people in rural areas and promoting Chechnya as a spiritual Mecca
By Musa Alibekov

Regional leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria have called on teachers and parents across the republic to join in the fight against Wahhabism.


At an emergency session of the Nalchik administration, top city officials unanimously condemned the purist branch of Islam which, they say, targets the young and the disaffected.


The session was aimed at drawing up a list of countermeasures to combat the spread of Wahhabism in Kabardino-Balkaria and beyond.


Ever since extremist fighters under Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev staged a shock incursion into Dagestan last September, Wahhabites have become Public Enemy Number One in the Caucasus. Many believe the fundamentalists are committed to destabilising the entire region in a bid to create a breakaway Islamic state.


In his opening speech, Khazretali Berdov, head of the Nalchik city administration, stated, "Wahhabism in our republic is by no means a horrifying myth. The Wahhabites work according to a well established plan: first, they infiltrate existing religious organisations, then they spark off confrontation between traditional Muslims and extremist factions. Finally, they start shouting and screaming about the suppression of Islam in the Caucasus."


Nalchik's public prosecutor, Anatoly Tkhagapsoev, said Wahhabi groups had been spreading subversive literature across the republic. These included a leaflet entitled "An Appeal to the Youth and Inhabitants of Kabardino-Balkaria" and a book, "The Law of the Jihad".


He added, "Both works make references to the claim that there is a threat to Islam hanging over the entire North Caucasus and this threat must be resisted."


Tkhagapsoev went on to say that police had identified a total of 382 Wahhabi activists in Kabardino-Balkaria, 167 of whom were based in Nalchik. The majority were aged between 25 and 30.


The prosecutor accused the republic's Spiritual Islamic Leadership of being too "passive". "The leadership is not defending its own interests," said Tkhagapsoev. "It must pay more attention to its recruitment policies."


Colonel Naurbi Zhamborov, police chief for the 3rd Department, said the Wahhabites were actively targeting youths and students in rural areas. He explained that, of the four mosques in his district, three were not registered with the justice ministry.


Furthermore, said Colonel Zhamborov, an imam had visited a number of local schools, without the prior permission of the teachers, and had been seen urging the children to visit his mosque.


At School No. 31 in Nalchik, Wahhabi information sheets had been posted on notice-boards and a schoolboy, Kirill Kolesnikov, had violently resisted attempts to take them down.


Colonel Boris Attoev, deputy head of the Federal Security Service in Kabardino-Balkaria, said, "...in recent years, various centres have been promoting their extremist ideologies under the guise of religious revival or educational purposes. Their aim is to seize power in the North Caucasus and create a confederation of Islamic states."


Attoev went on to say that many youngsters from rural areas had gone to Chechnya on the pretext of continuing their religious studies there. It was thought that at least 10 youths had never returned and their parents had no idea of their whereabouts or their activities.


Shafig Pshikhachev, mufti of Kabardino-Balkaria, said one solution was to reestablish the Islamic Institute in Nalchik and stop young people leaving the republic in search of spiritual instruction.


The Institute was closed down earlier this year after the local government claimed it was operating without a licence.


Pshikhachev called on parents, religious leaders, schools and police to work together to protect young people from subversive elements within the spiritual community.


Musa Alibekov is a regular contributor to IWPR