Police and federal security service (FSB) operatives on Wednesday killed two militants in Russia’s predominantly Islamic republic of Tatarstan, as the radical Islamist insurgency shows signs of spreading from the North Caucasus to central Russia.
“The gunmen were killed in the police assault on the building,” spokesman for the Russian Investigative committee, Vladimir Markin, said. “They were suspects in the recent attacks on Muslim leaders in Tatarstan.”
The militants were surrounded in a building in Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, and offered stiff resistance, killing an FSB officer and injuring two others in a grenade blast. A firefight ensued as the suspects refused to surrender.
Police found three handguns, ammunition, and parts of improvised explosive devices at the scene. One of the militants was wearing a belt containing explosives.
Some 30 residents were evacuated from the building for the duration of the operation and temporarily housed in a nearby school. A pregnant woman went into labor during the evacuation and was taken to a hospital, eyewitnesses said.
Tatarstan has been viewed as a model of interethnic and inter-faith harmony in ethnically diverse Russia. However, July’s attacks on moderate Muslim leaders, which left Tatarstan’s mufti Ildus Faizov severely injured, and his former deputy Valiulla Yakupov dead, were a further, troubling, indication that radical Islam is spreading beyond what had been seen as its ‘traditional’ borders.
Some experts claim that followers of extremist branches of Islam in Tatarstan, which is located in the Volga region some 500 kilometers from Moscow, have put their doctrinal disagreements aside, and are joining forces in order to broaden their influence.
Alexey Malashenko, an Islam expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, believes that the spread of ultra-conservative branches of Islam, such as Salafism and Wahhabism, from the Caucasus and Central Asia, is a further “internationalizing” factor in this trend.