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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local Muslim Leaders Split on U.S.-Led Strikes

The U.S.-led air strikes against Afghanistan have shed light on the fault lines in the leadership of Russia's 20-million-strong Muslim community.

And while the position of mainstream Muslim leaders largely coincides with that of the Kremlin, which supports the U.S.-led coalition, some experts believe that the majority of ordinary Muslims are more drawn to the anti-American rhetoric of more radical Islamic groups.

"For the most part, Russian Muslims don't support America's bombing of Afghanistan," said Dmitry Makarov, an Islamic expert at the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies, in an interview Monday. "Therefore, Muslim clerics striving for integration into the existing Russian bureaucratic establishment have to be very diplomatic when speaking on the issue."

But, he said, the less numerous -- and less politically constrained -- radical groups can speak much more freely and, at the moment, appear to be the mouthpiece of the majority of Muslims.

"The 20-year-old nightmare of Soviet rulers has become a reality -- America is coming to Central Asia," said Geidar Djemal, head of the radical Islamic Committee, at a news conference Tuesday. "The U.S. presence there threatens Russian sovereignty and will give Russia, Iran and China the very unpleasant sense of being encircled."

According to Djemal, the United States' objective in bombing Taliban positions is not to solve the problem of terrorism, but to create prerequisites for imposing the United States' military presence in the region.

"Moreover, having posed very vague operational objectives at the outset of the military offensive, the Americans can broaden the zone of aggression at any time, saying they cannot reach their goals by bombing only Afghanistan," Djemal told journalists.

Even moderate Muslim clerics, usually supportive of the Kremlin, have not been unanimous in assessing the military developments in Afghanistan.

Farid Asadullin, head of the Science and Public Relations Department of Russia's most mainstream Muslim organization, the Council of Muftis, said the council's Spiritual Muslim Board of European Russia has decided to refrain from official statements on the strikes.

But he added: "We believe that in refusing to participate in the ground operation in Afghanistan, the Russian leadership has chosen a well-reasoned, correct position."

He added that the council hopes the U.S. operation will be "a precision job [carried out] within fixed temporal and geographic limits."

"The American military has such technical abilities," said Asadullin.

The Supreme Mufti of Russia and European CIS member countries, Talgat Tadjuddin, acknowledged the right of the United States and other countries to "punish the ... participants and plotters of the terrorist acts in New York and Washington," according to Interfax.

"However, any retribution must be kept within the limits of morality and international law," he was quoted as saying Monday.

But not all moderates took such a laissez-faire approach to the events in Central Asia.

On Tuesday, the second-tier Spiritual Muslim Board of Asiatic Russia accused the United States of "state terrorism" for bombing Afghanistan.

"The fact that the man -- whose ... link to the destruction of the New York skyscrapers has not been proved -- remains in Afghanistan cannot justify the destruction of the whole country, and the American armada's attack on Afghanistan can only be called a terrorist act," the board said in a statement signed by Mufti Nafigulla Ashirov.

While none of the groups -- either outright radicals or critical moderates -- called on Russia's Muslims to take up arms and help the Taliban, Ashirov's statement invited local Muslims to join an anti-war campaign the board plans to launch in the near future.