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Russian President Confronts Islamic Fundamentalism in Caucasus


President Dmitri Medvedev is in Dagestan in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus region, where another bomb blast added to a streak of deadly explosions that began this week in the Moscow subway. Chechen rebel Doku Umarov has claimed credit for the Moscow attack in the name of Islam. Mr. Medvedev has countered the claim with a moral appeal to the Islamic faith and its spiritual leaders in the Caucasus.

President Medvedev arrived in capital city of Makhachkala as two people were killed when an explosion ripped their car apart in a Dagestani village. The cause of the blast is being investigated, but police say the vehicle may have been transporting a makeshift bomb. On Wednesday, several people were killed in a twin suicide bombing on Moscow Street in the town of Kizlyar. The local police chief was among the victims.

In a meeting with local officials, Mr. Medvedev called for stepping up the war on terror.

While Islam is often associated with terrorism, Mr. Medvedev recognized the importance of the Muslim faith in the Caucasus. He called for support of its mainstream spiritual leaders, saying terrorism can also be confronted through spirituality and high ethical standards.

The Kremlin leader recognizes Islam and Islamic spiritual leaders have a special place in the Caucasus. He says he spoke last year about helping them, adding that every effort should be made to enhance their authority.

Meanwhile, Chechen Islamist rebel Doku Umarov, dressed in a military camouflage jacket in a wooded location, claimed credit for the Moscow subway bombings in an Internet video posted on Wednesday. Umarov incants the name of Allah throughout the four-minute recording.

Umarov claims the operation carried out on his orders was not directed against the poorest of Russians, but rather against residents of Moscow. He says he will laugh at any politician, journalist or other person who condemns him for those operations or calls him a terrorist.

The head of the Caucasus department at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergei Arutyunov calls Umarov a false Muslim. He told VOA Umarov fought for Chechen independence against Russia in the 1990s under the banner of nationalism.

Arutyunov says nationalism receded somewhat about three or four years ago. He adds that religious fanaticism took its place, though it existed earlier," said Arutyunov. "The difference, the scholar says, is that religious fanaticism previously assisted nationalism; now it's the opposite - pseudo Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a primary political force.

Political analyst Masha Lipman at the Moscow Carnegie Center says President Medvedev's appeal to Islamic spiritual leaders may be an attempt to contrast ordinary with radical Islam.

Lipman says the move is very smart, though whether it will work is another matter. She notes, however, that the vast majority of people in the Caucasus are practicing Muslims and also Russian citizens who will continue to live in Russia, so it's important to develop normal relations with them.

Lipman says it is no secret that many Russians do not consider the Caucasus to be a part of the "real" Russia and prefer not to think about events there.

In Dagestan, Mr. Medvedev reminded Russians that the Caucasus is not a foreign province, but an integral part of Russia. He also urged Russians elsewhere to refer to people from the region as fellow citizens, not outsiders.

In his latest video, Doku Umarov repeats a theme woven into his previous warnings that violence in the Caucasus is not something distant and televised, but something he intends to bring into the streets and homes of Russians throughout the country.

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