I'm a British News Correspondent based in Moscow, Russia.
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Wednesday, 30 March 2011
North Caucasus Journal- Day 2- Pyatigorsk to Nalchik
The central square of the Kabardino-Balkaria's capital Nalchik, the scene of a huge militant raid in 2005.
Now we were heading from the relatively calm administrative capital of the North Caucasus to a much more troubled place. Kabardino-Balkaria lies to the west of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Recent incidents there include the murder of the republic's mufti (an Islamic leader) two months before, attacks on Federal Security Service (FSB) buildings and police and the emergence of a new, an Islamist vigilante group, the Black Hawks.
We travelled a snowy road into Kabardino-Balkaria's capital, Nalchik. An army convoy was waiting outside the town. There was a very heavy police presence. We arrived as the 12.30pm call to prayer rang out across a city that had recently found itself dragged once again into the region's ugly insurgency.
The majority religion here is a traditional form of Sunni Islam much tempered by local Caucasian culture.
We headed to the city's, and the republic's biggest mosque. The ethnic Russians here, at around 25% of the population call it a cathedral mosque. Before and after the prayers security guards scanned the approaches on the roads around and searched the mosque's grounds.
There we talked to the deputy head of the region's Islamic department. He is an imam and was a deputy to that murdered mufti, Anas Pshikhachev. He told us that Muslim extremists had threatened Anas Pshikhachev repeatedly that he wasn't preaching the right sermons. He ignored their threats. They arrived at his house one December night and when he opened his door to them, as he did to all visitors, they shot him four times. "They lost a lot of sympathy that day when they killed such a moderate figure," our imam said, adding that their reading of Islam is twisted. He was firm that to commit suicide is a sin in Islam too. "To commit suicide and murder innocents in the process will not lead to paradise," he said.
Nalchik has seen an increase in militant attacks in the past few months, breaking a calm that has lasted some years. One of my colleagues remembers the carnage of the central square in 2005 when over 150 militants attacked points across the city. There is calm here on this day, but it is fragile.
The majority of the population are Muslims, including the militant's victims.