Moscow: Muslims gathered for Friday prayers at Moscow`s central mosque said they were afraid and angry at a nationalist riot last week that saw hundreds make fascist salutes beside the Kremlin walls.
The chief imam at the mosque said that fewer people than usual had attended prayers, blaming fears after the violent riot, triggered by the shooting of a football fan in a fight with men from the Russian Caucasus.
Football fans and ultranationalists clashed with police on the central Manezh Square on December 11 in a protest ostensibly at police handling of the shooting of a Spartak Moscow football fan.
The unsanctioned rally quickly turned into a riot with hooded youths chanting racist slogans and beating up people from the Russian Caucasus and Central Asia.
Usually, thousands of worshippers roll out prayer rugs on the pavement outside the cramped mosque. But yesterday, all the worshippers stayed within the gates.
"Because of this situation, on the ordinary days this week there have been fewer people," imam Ildar Khazrat Alyautdinov said. "Every day we can see there are noticeably fewer people.”
"Of course there are fears over safety," said Alyautdinov. "There are fears for their lives, of course people are afraid."
He said he has warned parishioners not to travel alone or go out at night.
The mosque has an eclectic congregation, ranging from fur-coated Muscovites to Central Asian migrant workers in tracksuits and thin jackets. The service is in both Russian and Arabic.
More than 20 million Muslims live in Russia, concentrated in Moscow and Saint Petersburg as well as in historically Muslim regions in the North Caucasus and close to the Urals.
Migrant workers from Central Asia are another large group.
The sermon began with the preacher saying he was saddened by the riot and calling for Muslims to "move forward”.
"It`s sad, unpleasant because someone is trying to split up society, while we have always lived in a multi-confessional, multi-national society," the imam said, calling the attackers "frozen inside, empty”.
Following the riot, several people phoned the mosque warning of forthcoming skinhead attacks, the imam said.