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Arson Attacks On Russian Churches Condemned

CHERKESSK, Russia -- Clerics, politicians, and public figures in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia have condemned arson attacks on three churches, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reports.

During the night of October 31-November 1, unknown attackers set fire to two Orthodox churches in the town of Karachayevsk and one Baptist church in the town of Ordzhonikidzevskaya.

A spokeswoman for Karachayevo-Cherkessia President Boris Ebzeyev told RFE/RL that the fires were swiftly extinguished and no casualties were reported.

The attacks came ahead of an important event in the republic's calendar -- the November 2 anniversary of the 1943 deportation of the Karachai nation to Central Asia by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Ismail-Hadji Berdiyev, who heads the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, says the attacks are a very well-planned provocation.

"[It was] a pure provocation. [The perpetrators] want to provoke people. Today [Tuesday] we commemorated the day of the deportation of the Karachai people. And on the eve of that day, the arson attacks took place," Berdiyev explains.

Berdiyev says he has no idea who planned the attacks and is relying on local law enforcement to catch "the bandits."

Archbishop of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz Father Theofan condemned the attacks, saying that those who committed such barbarous acts cannot be called believers.

Leaders and activists of nongovernmental organizations and unions in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, including Rus', Abaza, Dzhamagat, Adyge-Hase, Birlik, and others, issued a joint statement condemning the attacks.

Arson or other attacks on churches in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus are extremely unusual. In recent years, the North Caucasus Islamic insurgency has not been active in Karachayevo-Cherkessia.