Chechen Muslims rally in their regional capital of Grozny condemning Western lampooning of their prophet, Muhammad, on Jan. 19, 2015.
Chechen Muslims rally in their regional capital of Grozny condemning Western lampooning of their prophet, Muhammad, on Jan. 19, 2015.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Russian Muslim region of Chechnya gathered in the regional capital Grozny on Monday to protest against caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Chechnya's Interior Ministry said more than a million people attended the demonstration. Earlier Monday, the Russian Interior Ministry had estimated the number of attendees at more than 800,000.

The republic's population is around 1.3 million.

Before the rally, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov urged people to attend to protest against what he called "the vulgarity, immorality, lack of culture, and the shamelessness of those who drew the caricatures of the Prophet."

Earlier this month, gunman attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, killing 12 people. The killings were said to be retaliation for the publication's depictions of Muhammad.

Some of the Chechen protesters Monday carried signs reading "Hands off the Prophet Muhammad," Addressing the crowd, Kadyrov declared “If needed, we are ready to die to stop anyone who thinks that you can irresponsibly defile the name of the Prophet."

He accused European journalists and politicians of proclaiming "the freedom to be vulgar, rude and insult the religious feelings of hundreds of millions of believers" under what he called "false slogans about freedom of speech and democracy."

The Chechen leader also told the crowds it was possible that "the authorities and special services of Western countries" were behind the Paris attacks as a way to "spark a new wave" of recruiting for the Islamic State group. In October, Kadyrov alleged that IS was acting "on orders from the West and deliberately exterminating Muslims."

Two days after the killings in Paris, Kadyrov accused the chief editor of a liberal radio station of inciting anti-Muslim hatred after its website asked readers to vote on whether publications should print caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in response to the Charlie Hebdo killings.

He also called Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil tycoon and long-time critic of President Vladimir Putin, a "personal enemy" and an enemy of all the world's Muslims after Khodorkovsky called for the publication of Muhammad caricatures to protest the Paris killings.

Kadyrov, who fought on the side of Chechen separatists in the 1990, is now one of Mr. Putin's most vigorous supporters. The Kremlin leader appointed Kadyrov president of Chechnya in 2007. Since then he has ruled Chechnya with an iron hand, and also has been accused of widespread human rights violations.

While he has fought against radical Islamist insurgents in the region, the Chechen leader has adopted some Islamic customs as laws. Among these is order a requirement that women must wear headscarves in public.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.