MOSCOW – Federal Security Agency (FSB) agents in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region have arrested the head of an isolated messianic sect in a massive raid on the group’s remote settlement.
Dozens of law enforcement vans, buses, ambulances, and helicopters participated in the September 22 raid at the City of the Sun settlement, in which Church of the Last Testament leader Sergei Torop, known as Vissarion, and his assistants, Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov, were taken into custody and whisked away by helicopter.
The Interfax news agency reported that the raid was carried out by agents of the FSB and the Investigative Committee.
“Sergei Torop, Vadim Redkin, and Vladimir Vedernikov -- leaders of the local religious organization the Church of the Last Testament, have been detained,” an unidentified law enforcement source told the state TASS news agency. “Since very early this morning, investigative activities have been under way in southern Krasnoyarsk Krai.”
Some 200 church members reportedly live at the City of the Sun settlement, which is one of about 40 such church communities in the region. Vedernikov was reportedly detained at the nearby church compound of Petropavlovka.
Church of the Last Testament member Aleksandr Staroverov posted to social media a video showing masked agents with automatic weapons searching the City of the Sun settlement in southern Krasnoyarsk Krai.
Russian state media said the men were detained on suspicion of “inflicting grievous bodily harm” and “creating a nonprofit organization that infringes on the rights of citizens.” No details about the charges were reported.
Agents were reportedly searching the settlement for weapons, ammunition, and banned “extremist” literature.
Last month, a criminal investigation into the group was opened after members reportedly attacked a correspondent for REN-TV.
Torop, a 59-year-old former traffic-police officer, founded the Church of the Last Testament in 1991, and it was officially registered as a legal religious organization in 1995. The group claims some 10,000 followers, mostly living in southern parts of the Krasnoyarsk region.
The group bars members from eating meat, using tobacco or alcohol, or using money.
Torop also has followers abroad, particularly in Germany. Seven volumes of the church’s teachings -- which combine elements of Russian Orthodoxy and Buddhism with strong elements of collectivism and environmentalism -- have been translated into German.
The church claims a large swath of southern Krasnoyarsk Krai, which it calls the Tiberkul religious settlement.
With reporting by Kommersant, REN-TV, TASS, and Interfax