In the autonomous republic of Tatarstan in Russia, political and spiritual leaders are concerned about rising fundamentalist Islam. In this Muslim-majority state, religious leaders invited the populace to not give in to radicals. One local Russian Orthodox priest claimed that Wahhabi Muslims, a prominent sect from Saudi Arabia, are the culprits.
 
Over the last year, seven Christian places of worship have been burned, while Christian believers have been persecuted and subjected to pressure by Muslims to convert to Islam. Tartarstan’s president, Rustam Minnikhanov, has expressed concern and promised to personally intervene. Government investigators are looking into the attacks as acts of vandalism that violate the principles of freedom of conscience and religious practice. A criminal investigation ensued when unexploded ordnance was discovered in Alexeyevsky and Nizhnekamsk , at the end of November . Prosecutors are seeking to have the incidents considered as acts of terrorism. If convicted, those responsible may face up to 20 years in Russia’s harsh penal system.
 
The most recent incidents of arson directed at churches came on November 28-29 of this year, mirroring a similar incident in 2012. 
 
Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported that local investigators are following adherents of the extreme Wahhabi sect who may be abetted by local Muslim clergy. Speaking in an interview with Interfax, Rev. Dmitri Sizov , a priest who serves in  Pestrechinsky, said that " the whole community knows that it is the work of the Wahhabis." He added that in some predominantly Christian villages of Tatarstan, "fundamentalist agitators roam, inviting the faithful to convert to Islam." In addition, Father Sizov, said "The priests remain silent because they are afraid of being accused of incitement to religious hatred."
 
Tartar President Minnikhanov has offered a reward of one million rubles ($30,000) for information about the perpetrators of the attacks. 
 
Local Christian and Muslim clerics have appealed to their congregations to not give in to "provocations" aimed at "destroying the good interfaith relations developed over the centuries in the Volga region." In a joint statement, the spiritual leaders declared, Orthodox metropolitan Anastasius and Tartar mufti Kamil Samigullin wrote, "The vandalism against objects and places of worship is a direct insult to the sentiments of the faithful and those responsible for these acts deserve wide public condemnation." 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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