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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moslem Clergy Targeted By Chechen Extremists

Moslem clergy in Chechnya who urge peace and cooperate with the pro-Moscow administration of former Mufti Akhmad Kadyrov have found themselves among the prime targets of extremist rebels who fight under the banner of fundamentalist Islam.

Kadyrov's spokesman, Taus Dzhabrailov, said that in the Urus-Martan district alone, which has become a stronghold of fundamentalists, about 10 imams, the prayer leaders of mosques, and alims (learned Moslems from whose ranks imams are chosen) have been killed over the past year.

Members of local administrations under Kadyrov also have been targeted, Dzhabrailov said in a telephone interview from Gudermes last week. All together, about 35 religious and political figures were killed in Chechnya in 2000, he said.

Neither he nor the office of the Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, had complete figures.

Kadyrov's spokesman said the terror has reached such a point that it has become impossible to elect a new imam in the Urus-Martan district. Two imams have been killed in Urus-Martan since Kadyrov was picked to head the Kremlin-backed administration last summer.

"They have already implanted fear among the elders and alims of the district's 19 towns and villages," Dzhabrailov said. "Some have left Chechnya altogether, others fear for their lives."

Malik Saidullayev, a prominent Chechen businessman and politician, also expressed his alarm. "Terror has been unleashed against representatives of the local authorities and Moslem clergy in the republic," he said last week at a news conference in Moscow.

In the Urus-Martan district alone 10 imams have been killed over the past year.

Most of the imams of Chechnya's mosques advocate traditional Islam, Dzhabrailov said. "That means that by definition they are opponents of the Wahhabis. For them [Wahhabis], the main threat comes from spiritual people, who can prove on the basis of the Koran and its interpretations, that Wahhabism is an innovation in Chechnya whose only goal is to gain power through blood and murder."

Wahhibism is the name given to a fundamentalist sect in Chechnya.

Alexei Malashenko, a Caucasus expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center, said that in part because Islam does not differentiate between spiritual and worldly authority, all clergymen are political figures. This is true, he said, whether they support Kadyrov or elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, both of whom oppose fundamentalist Islam.

Clergymen have been killed because they were seen as collaborating with federal authorities or going against what the fundamentalists consider to be true Islam, Malashenko said.

Shortly after Kadyrov was appointed, the Urus-Martan imam Umar Idrisov was killed in July after giving a sermon urging peace. On Jan. 7, a new imam of the Urus-Martan district, Khasmagomed Umalatov, was shot with a pistol on the threshold of his house. Russian commander General Ivan Babichev went to Urus-Martan and promised that the murderers would be punished. But two days later, the 70-year-old imam of the Germenchuk village near Grozny, Magomed Khasuyev, was shot. On the same day, Idrisov's brother and his son were killed in Urus-Martan.