Concert attack shadows Muslim festival in Moscow

Turnout was much lower than in previous years, after Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for last month's terror attack.

Muslims in Moscow marked the end of Ramadan with scaled-down celebrations on Wednesday, with the holiday overshadowed by the fallout from a deadly attack last month on a concert hall.

In previous years huge crowds — Russian Muslims and migrants from Central Asia — gathered around the Moscow Cathedral Mosque in the Prospekt Mira district for Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan fasting month.

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This year, turnout was way down and police had cordoned off areas, AFP journalists saw.

“It’s no celebration,” Haji Ramazan, a 49-year old from the Caucasus region of Dagestan, told AFP on Wednesday.

More than 140 people were killed when gunmen stormed the Crocus City Hall concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow on March 22 and set fire to the building. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest in Russia for two decades.

Russia has arrested the four suspected assailants, all citizens of Tajikistan.

– ‘Very tough’ –

“Prayer did take place. However, this year was not like last because of what happened. Because of the attack, there aren’t many people. These streets used to be full of people,” said Salabek Dzhanchkulov, 56, a Koran teacher who has lived in Moscow for five years.

Asherbek Nurgaliyev, an 18-year-old volunteer at the mosque, said he was expecting even fewer at morning prayers.

“After the terror attack the number of people became a little less. But its more than we expected. That’s good,” Nurgaliyev, who is from Kyrgyzstan, told AFP.

For many of the millions of Muslims in Russia, particularly those from Central Asia like the accused Crocus City Hall gunmen, caution has been the watchword since the attack.

Already pervasive police raids on dormitories and workplaces of migrant workers have escalated, as have reports of street-level harassment and xenophobia.

Nurgaliyev said police were taking a strict approach to worshippers attending Eid services.

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“The checks are very tough, every step of the way (police) are checking. It’s very worrying,” he told AFP.

The intense atmosphere comes as Russian officials have paid only lip service to the idea that the attack was carried out by Islamist extremists.

Despite IS claiming responsibility on multiple occasions, the authorities, including President Vladimir Putin, have tried to promote a link to Ukraine, without providing evidence.

Russia’s major cities are home to millions of migrants from Central Asia, who often work in low-skilled jobs and live in tough conditions in order to send money to families back home.

© Agence France-Presse