Nalchik: Russian police round up Muslim men

When Zarema Valgasova last saw her son, he was semiconscious and bleeding profusely from a badly broken arm with cigarette burns on his body - the result, she says, of police torture after his arrest.

After Thursday's attack by dozens of Islamic militants on police and security facilities in the southern Russian city of Nalchik, police rounded up more than three dozen people - most of them Muslim men.

The latest violence was in Kabardino-Balkiriya republic, a tense area ridden with poverty and corruption. It underscored the volatility of the Caucasus region where a long-running conflict in Chechnya is spilling over with increasing frequency to nearby republics.

At least 108 people, including 72 attackers, were killed in this week's fighting, according to a tally of accounts by officials, news reports and an Associated Press reporter. Twenty-four law enforcement officers were killed and 51 were wounded, government officials said.

Chechen rebels have claimed involvement in the attacks, raising fears that Islamic militants who have been fighting Russian forces for most of the past decade were opening a new front in the troubled Caucasus.

Rebels for years have harassed Russian forces in Chechnya with roadside bombs and homemade explosives, but the Nalchik attacks appeared to be part of a strategy to target areas outside the volatile republic and keep Moscow off-balance.

The attack comes amid a long-running regional campaign aimed at undermining nascent Islamic extremism - which Russian officials describe as "Wahhabism" - a term stemming from the strict and austere form of Islam predominant in Saudi Arabia and practiced by Osama bin Laden.

Rights lawyers and the region's officially sanctioned Islamic leader say the campaign has caught up innocent, peaceful young Muslims, alienating and offending them as they rediscover their religious heritage.

If police continue their crackdown on Kabardino-Balkariya Muslims, it could lead to renewed violence against authorities, said Larisa Dolgova, a lawyer who represents Muslims in their complaints about harassment and torture.

Valgasova said her 26-year-old son, Daniil Khamukov, is a family man with two young children - and an observant Muslim. On Thursday morning, not long after gunfire reverberated around the city of 235,000, he said goodbye to his wife and two young children and set off for his job as a window dresser.

By 11 a.m., his battered body was in the courtyard outside his home, bleeding from a compound arm fracture, Valgasova said. He lay there for seven hours, she said. Paramedics refused to help.

Dolgova, the lawyer, said Khamukov was arrested simply because he is an observant Muslim who does not practice his belief through official channels, for example, by attending worship services at Nalchik's only authorized mosque.

Even before Thursday's attacks, Dolgova said relatives of detained Muslims had turned to her for help filing legal complaints about mistreatment by law enforcement officials. Anas Pshikhachev, the official mufti, or Islamic leader, for Kabardino-Balkariya, mildly criticized local authorities.

For example, he said the decision to close all the city's mosques except for his was a mistake. And some female university students had been accosted for wearing headscarves while some observant men confronted for wearing the style of beard of devout Muslims, added.

But the mufti was quick to add those were isolated incidents. Still, this spring, the region saw a series of demonstrations by residents demanding an end to arbitrary police sweeps in search of what they said were Islamic extremists.

Russian officials said the 2002 seizure of hundreds of people in a Moscow theater, the 2004 school hostage-taking in the southern city of Beslan that killed 330 and other terror attacks were conducted by the Chechen militants with support and guidance from al-Qaida.

However, there is no firm evidence the two groups are coordinating their strategies, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported.


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