Russia breaks up Islamist network in Far East: official

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Russia has broken up a network of Islamists in its Far East who were seeking recruits for militant camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the security service said Wednesday.

The Islamists, apparently from Central Asia, had arrived in the Primorye region on the Pacific coast in Russia's Far East in 2008 and have been arrested and deported to face trial in Uzbekistan, it said.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said the leader of the group, named as Abdulkhamidov, had over the last two years built up considerable influence in the region's main city of Vladivostok and even became head of a prayer house.

Vladivostok, the terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway, has a population of 600,000 people, 10 percent of whom are Muslim, mainly migrant workers from ex-Soviet Central Asia.

The city is in the midst of a massive reconstruction programme as it gears up to host the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which is likely to be marked by immense security measures.

Russia has long been fighting an Islamist insurgency in its largely Muslim North Caucasus region but this is one of the first times that the existence of an extremist network has been reported as far afield as Vladivostok.

The FSB said the arrests had taken place several months ago but it was only disclosing the information now.

"In the course of the operation it was established that agents were sent to Primorye from Central Asia in 2008 with the aim of spreading radical Islam among the young population and collecting recruits for militant camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan," it said.

The FSB said the arrests had been part of a painstaking operation.

"It's only in films that the task is solved by a missile but in reality things are much more complex. It is due to this that the exposure and arrests of the group have only been possible now."

© 2010 AFP

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