(Reuters) – Little girls in hijabs peek out of tin-roof houses and boys play at “cops and insurgents” in the narrow dirt streets.
At one end of the village of Gimry men are building a new, red-brick madrassa, one of many religious schools springing up across Dagestan, a region in the high Caucasus mountains on Russia’s southern fringe, in the throes of an Islamic revival.
More than a dozen young men from the village have “gone to the forest” – the local euphemism for joining insurgents in their hideouts, says village administrator Aliaskhab Magomedov.
“It’s a full-fledged jihad,” he said. “They don’t recognize my authority. Islam does not separate the state from religion.”
Throughout the 12 years since Vladimir Putin rose to power and crushed a Chechen separatist revolt, Russia has battled a simmering insurgency across its mainly Muslim Caucasus mountain lands: Chechyna and its neighbors Ingushetia and Dagestan.
With Putin back in the Kremlin after a four year hiatus as prime minister, he has tried to end the violence by emphasizing the unity of Russia, providing backing for mainstream clerics and cracking down hard on religious radicalism.
But the formula seems to be failing here, driving communities further into the embrace of radical religion, and sending more young men into the mountains to take up arms.
In the first half of 2012 alone, the Caucasian Knot website recorded 185 insurgency-related deaths and 168 wounded, making Dagestan one of the deadliest places in Europe. The number of men seized by security forces as suspected militants so far this year, tracked by Russia’s leading rights group Memorial, has already exceeded last year’s total.
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