Seventy members of an Islamist sect have been discovered living in an eight-level underground bunker without heat for more than a decade, just outside the city of Kazan, Russia
The BBC says four members of a breakaway Muslim sect have been charged with cruelty against children for keeping them underground in catacomb-like cells without heat. Many had never seen sunlight.
Police discovered the sub-terranean community in the Tatarstan region, a mainly Muslim area on the Volga River, during an investigation into recent attacks on Muslim clerics in the region.
Some of the children, aged between one and seventeen had never left the compound, gone to school or treated by a doctor. The BBC reports some of the children have been placed in foster care, others in hospital. And the Globe and Mail says one 17-year old girl was discovered pregnant.
The Globe and Mail quotes Russian state TV channel Vesti saying the group, is known as the "Fayzarahmanist” sect. It's named after its 83-year-old organiser Fayzrahman Satarov, who declared himself a prophet and the underground community an independent Islamic state. The Telegraph says Satarov, a former top imam had ordered his followers to live in cells they dug under a three-story building topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon.
Only a few sect members were allowed to leave in order to work as traders at a local market. The BBC says the rest of his followers were banned from leaving the bunker and spent their days reading.
The Russian website Islam News says Sattarov had declared himself a prophet in the 1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from God.
The BBC says local media reports say Sattarov is now bedridden and delirious. He has been charged with the crime of "arbitrariness", defined as "unauthorised commission of actions contrary to the order presented by a law or any other normative legal act" and punishable by up to five years in prison.
The BBC says local police are quoted saying the underground bunker will be demolished. But the Telegraph says Gumer Ganiyev, appointed deputy "prophet" has told Vesti Television, "They will come with bulldozers and guns, but they can demolish this house over our dead bodies!"
Muslim leaders in Tatarstan say Satarov's views contradict their teachings. Kazan-based theologian Rais Suleimanov tells the Russian website Gazeta.ru, "Islam postulates that there are no other prophets after Mohammad." "The teachings of Sattarov, who declared himself a prophet, have been rejected by traditional Muslims."