Over 70 members of a reclusive Muslim sect have spent a decade in an eight-level catacomb in Russia’s Tatarstan. Their 27 children, some of them born underground, lived with them without access to education, healthcare or even daylight.
The founder of the sect, 83-year-old Faizrakhman Satarov, claims he is the last Muslim prophet.
About a decade ago, the self-proclaimed prophet ordered his followers to live in catacombs they had dug under his estate in the suburbs of the city of Kazan, capital of the region, situated on the Volga River.
There they lived, completely isolated from the outside world, in unsanitary cells without electric light, heat or ventilation. Investigators reportedly found extremist books in the compound.
The authorities had to remove 19 under-aged children and temporarily place them in care as conditions in the bunker were unsuitable for habitation. The children, aged between one and 17, had never left Satarov’s “estate”. Some were born underground and have never even seen daylight.
The children have been examined by a number of medics, who found the health condition of the “underworld” children satisfactory.
“They were properly nourished, but very dirty,” pediatrician Tatyana Moroz told Vesti TV channel.
The sectarians have expressed concern about their children being treated by medics, who "could do anything to them," member of the sect Fana Sayanova told local television.
The Russian Children’s Ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said that their parents will have to undergo special treatment before they can be reunited with their children.
“Unfortunately the rehabilitation of sect victims takes a long time and requires the participation of professionals. Parents who are members of the sect first have to undergo proper treatment and only after that may be allowed back to their children,” he told RIA Novosti.
The sect has been discovered during a police raid investigating the assassination of Tatarstan's deputy chief mufti Valiulla Yakupov, a staunch critic of radical forms of Islam. The top Muslim cleric was gunned down in mid-July as he left his house in Kazan. The same day there was an attempt to assassinate Tatarstan’s chief mufti Ildus Faizov, who survived a bomb blast.
Tatarstan police have announced that the sect’s estate, a house built on 700 square meters of land, was built illegally and is a subject to demolition.
“They have decided to eliminate our community, decided to wage war against Allah. They won’t defeat Allah,” proclaimed sect member Gumer Ganiyev, reportedly appointed deputy prophet by sect head Satarov, to Vesti TV channel.
"They will come with bulldozers and guns, but they will have to demolish this house over our dead bodies!" Ganiyev promised.
When RT’s crew arrived at the scene, the sect members did not let them into the compound, saying that the media are biased in covering the event. They said “the media are acting together with the state and they do not recognize any state authorities,” RT’s Egor Piskunov reported from Kazan.
Self-proclaimed prophet Satarov has been charged with negligence and warned that if he does not end his extremist activities, the sect will be outlawed. He had forbidden his followers – who called themselves “muammin," from the Arabic for "believers" – from receiving any medical assistance and children were not allowed to attend schools. Thus, the leader of the sect had denied them their constitutional rights, Irina Petrova, assistant to the state attorney, told RIA Novosti.
Satarov used to be a top cleric in the neighboring republic of Bashkiria. However in the 1990s he proclaimed himself a prophet and founded the sect, an act that goes against the principles of Islam, which recognizes only the Prophet Mohammed.
Sect members do not recognize the state or laws and do not leave the territory of their compound. They are only allowed to read the Koran and Satarov’s preachings.
Local media reported that Satarov has followers in several other cities in Tatarstan and other Volga River provinces.