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Following Mufti Attacks, Tatar Officials Seek To Control Narrative

The funeral of Valiulla Yakupov, a former deputy mufti, was held in Kazan on July 20.
The funeral of Valiulla Yakupov, a former deputy mufti, was held in Kazan on July 20.
Less than a week after two separate terrorist attacks injured the top government-backed Islamic cleric in Tatarstan and killed his former deputy, the republic's government is trying to put a lid on growing tensions.

Amid fears that the brazen daylight attacks in the normally peaceful republic are a sign of growing Islamist radicalization, the government on July 24 issued a "recommendation" that media quote only seven approved experts on all questions about "Islamic life in the republic."

The presidential administration said the purpose of the instruction was to avoid public statements by Islamic figures whose opinions differ from those of the official Tatarstan Muslim Spiritual Directorate (DUM).

DUM official Rishat Khamidullin was quoted by "Kazan Week" as saying the directorate and the government drew up the list together and that the men on the list would have to coordinate their comments to the media with the DUM in advance.

However, Dzhalil Fazliyev, the DUM's head of legal affairs and one of the people on the official list of commentators, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that the government urged the seven men on the list to make themselves available to journalists and to speak without restriction.

The presidential administration could not be reached for comment.

Most representatives of official media in Tatarstan declined to comment on this story. A manager with the Tatarstan-Yang Gasir television channel who asked that her name not be used confirmed her network had received the list and would follow the recommendation.

'Act Like We Don't See Anything'

Rashit Akhmetov, editor in chief of the nonstate "Zvezda povolzhya," told RFE/RL that the government's order is a "near hysterical" bureaucratic response to the terrorist attacks.

Mufti Ildus Faizov, who suffered two broken legs in a car bombing, is visited in the hospital by Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov.
Mufti Ildus Faizov, who suffered two broken legs in a car bombing, is visited in the hospital by Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov.
"This is an old, Soviet-style, bureaucratic reaction -- 'Let's shut everything down, shut everyone up, and act like we don't see anything or hear anything and that will mean that it doesn't exist," Akhmetov says.

He says the government typically treats such matters as if the problem were mainly "incorrect information."

Akhmetov expects only the state-controlled media -- primarily television and radio -- to obey the recommendation, and so thinks it is bound to be ineffective or even counterproductive.

"After all, there is the Internet," he says. "In reality, an enormous part of the information sphere here is on the Internet. So I think this is simply an inadequate reaction by the bureaucracy to this horrible terrorist act."

Harbingers Of Fear

Kazan Mufti Ildus Faizov suffered two broken legs and other injuries in a car-bomb attack on July 19 in the Tatarstan capital, Kazan. An hour earlier, a close associate and former deputy mufti, Valiulla Yakupov, was shot dead in another part of the city. All the people on the list are leaders of major, official Islamic institutions, including the republican and Kazan-level spiritual directorates and the main mosque in the capital.

One day after the attacks, police arrested an Uzbek citizen and four Tatars in connection with the attacks. Dozens of others were detained and questioned, in many cases because of their stances against the pro-government clerics. Officials say the attacks might have been connected to Faizov's control over cash flows related to sending Muslims on the annual hajj to Mecca.

Others fear that Faizov and Yakupov were targeted for their pro-Kremlin, anti-Wahhabi positions and that the attacks could be harbingers that the violent Islamist insurgency that has simmered in Russia's North Caucasus for many years could be spreading north.

Immediately following the attacks, President Vladimir Putin said the incidents sent "a serious signal" to the Tatarstan authorities.

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