Thursday, July 26, 2012

Russia's Tatarstan Mufti Mystery

Who tried to kill the Mufti?  That's the Question in Russia after last week's car bomb attack on Mufti Ildus Faizov, one of the top clerics in Russia's historically Muslim Tatarstan region, and a man greatly respected by the Kremlin for his promotion of a moderate, peaceful brand of Islam, which stands in stark contrast to the Islamic-fueled insurgency in Russia's Northern Caucasus region.

Initial fears were that Faizov and one of his closest associates Valiulla Yakupov, were targeted by Islamic insurgents from the Caucasus because of their moderate views – Faizov was badly injured in the car bombing but will survive; Yakupov was shot in the head in a separate attack and killed.  Caucasus Islamists may still be behind the attack, though an alternate theory, that the two men were attacked over a business deal, is gaining more credence following the arrest of five men over the weekend. 

The five have ties to a man named Rustem Gataullin who was the former head of the Idel-Hajj company – a firm that organize tour packages for Russian Muslims who want to complete the Hajj, the journey to the holy city Mecca that all Muslims are suppose to undertake once in their lifetimes.  Faizov took over operations of Idel-Hajj in 2011, there is a theory that it is this switch in leadership is the motivation for the attacks.

This would be a good news/bad news scenario for Russia.  On the good side, it would at least dismiss  the idea that the attempted assassination of Faizov was the beginning of a new offensive by the Caucasus Islamists, who in the past have staged high-profile terror attacks in Moscow that have included aircraft and subway suicide bombings.  On the bad side though, if the attack on Faizov was nothing more than an attempted “hit” over a business deal gone bad, this could be an indication that Russia was backsliding to the era of the 1990s when business-related murders were somewhat common – a fact that could likely have a chilling effect on foreign investment in Russia.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is responding to the attack in a sadly predictable way, by trying to impose a media blackout on the whole affair. According to Radio Free Europe, the government in Tatarstan recommended that journalists limit their coverage of the event to stories about life in the capital city (and site of the attacks) Kazan, and only seek comment from a short list of pre-approved “experts”.  An editor of an independent newspaper in the region called the government response “near hysterical” and noted that information on the incident was still freely available on the Internet.     
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