Underground sect charged with abuse

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MOSCOW (AP) — A self-proclaimed prophet had a vision from God: He would build an Islamic caliphate under the earth.

The digging began and 70 followers soon moved into an 8-story honeycomb of cramped cells with no light, heating or ventilation.

Children were born. They, too, lived in the cold underground cells. Until authorities raided the compound last week and freed the 27 sons and daughters of the sect — who rarely saw the light of day.

Aged between 1 and 17, the children had never left the property, attended school or been seen by a doctor, officials said Wednesday. Their parents were charged with child abuse.

The sect’s 83-year-old founder, Faizrakhman Satarov, who declared himself a prophet in contradiction with the principles of Islam, has also been charged with negligence, said Irina Petrova, deputy prosecutor in the provincial capital of Kazan.

No members of the sect, who call themselves “muammin” after the Arabic term that means “believers,” have been arrested, she said. Under Russian law, child abuse charges do not necessarily lead to arrest or a prison sentence.

The children were discovered last week when police searched the sect grounds as part of an investigation into the recent killing of a top Tatarstan Muslim cleric, an attack local officials blame on radical Islamist groups that have mushroomed in the oil-rich, Volga River province of Tatarstan.

Satarov, a former top imam in the neighboring province of Bashkortostan, ordered some 70 followers to live in cells they dug under the three-story building topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon. Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the premises to work as traders at a local market, Russian media reported.

The children were examined in local hospitals and will temporarily live in an orphanage, pediatrician Tatyana Moroz said. “They looked nourished, but dirty, so we had to wash them,” she said in televised remarks.

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