Russia charges nine with membership of banned Islamist group

Fri Nov 16, 2012 3:42am EST

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* Ministry says group tried to bomb civilian targets

* Police recently raided suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir activists' flats

By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday nine suspected militants were charged with belonging to outlawed Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which police said had planned bomb attacks on civilian targets in Moscow.

Police said they found firearms, explosives and counterfeit currency worth $1 million and 2 million euros during a raid on the apartments of Russian and Tajik citizens earlier this month.

At the time, law enforcement officials said they detained 18 suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir activists. It was not immediately clear if some or all of the 18 remained in custody.

"Nine citizens of Russia and the Republic of Tajikistan have been charged... on suspicion of organising activities of the international terrorist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir and having in their possession explosives, weapons, and ammunition," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Five of those charged were accused of leading cells of the organisation, which has gained a foothold through much of the former Soviet Union, especially in Central Asia and the predominantly Muslim regions of central Russia.

The Interior Ministry told Russian newswires it had tracked the alleged cells since 2010 and that their leaders had planned to bomb a railway track near a Moscow train station on Nov. 4, 2010 - an attack police said they had prevented.

The ministry said Hizb ut-Tahrir was trying to capitalise on an Islamist insurgency in Russia's North Caucasus region by drawing youth from the predominantly Muslim region into its ranks and distributing extremist literature.

Russia is fighting an uphill battle to contain North Caucasus militants who wage daily violence to create an Islamist state a few hundred kilometres from where Moscow plans to hold the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The insurgency's leader, Chechen-born Doku Umarov, took responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow's busiest airport Domodedovo last year which killed 37.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned in Russia since 2003 but operates legally in some other countries, is more active in other parts of Russia, including the regions of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

The group says it eschews violence, but its stated goal of working towards a global Islamist state has made it the target of secular governments, though the group operates more freely in Western states.

The group is among the suspects in a deadly attack on Tatarstan's top religious leader and his assistant in July.

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