August 9, 2012 in Nation/World

Children found living underground in sect

Self-proclaimed prophet, 83, charged with negligence
Mansur Mirovalev Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A member of an underground sect in Russia’s Volga River province of Tatarstan stands at the gate of a house outside the provincial capital of Kazan on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

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

The digging began about a decade ago and 70 followers soon moved into an eight-level subterranean honeycomb of cramped cells with no light, heat or ventilation.

Children were born. They, too, lived in the cold underground cells for many years – until authorities raided the compound last week and freed the 27 sons and daughters of the sect.

Ages 1 to 17, the children rarely saw the light of day and had never left the property, attended school or been seen by a doctor, officials said Wednesday. Their parents – sect members who call themselves “muammin,” from the Arabic for “believers” – were charged with child abuse.

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

The children were discovered 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 ordered his followers to live in cells they dug under a three-story brick house 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 at 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.

The decrepit house on a 7,530-square-foot plot of land was built illegally and will be demolished, Tatarstan police said.

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