Police discovered 27 children and 38 adults living in catacomb-like cells in an eight-level underground bunker.
According to The Huff Post, the digging began about a decade ago and 70 followers soon moved into an eight-level subterranean honeycomb of cramped cells with no light, heat or ventilation.
The youngest of the children living underground just turned 18 months. Many of them were born underground and had never seen daylight until prosecutors discovered their dwelling on August 1. A 17-year-old girl turned out to be pregnant.
The sect – known as the “Fayzarahmanist” sect – was named after its 83-year-old organiser Fayzrahman Satarov, who declared himself a prophet and his house an independent Islamic state, writes The Telegraph.
Satarov ordered his followers to live in cells they dug under a three-story brick house topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon. Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the premises to work as traders at a local market.
The sect was discovered during an investigation into the recent killing of a top Tatarstan Muslim cleric, an attack local officials blame on radical Islamist groups that have mushroomed in the oil-rich, Volga River province of Tatarstan.
Sattarov declared himself an Islamic prophet in the mid-1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from God. He was a former deputy to a Sunni Islamic cleric in the 1970s.
In a 2008 interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily, Satarov said that he fell out with other clerics and authorities in the Communist era, when he said the KGB sent him to Muslim nations with stories about religious freedom in the officially atheist Soviet Union.
“That’s how I became Satan’s servant, a traitor,” the white-bearded and turbaned Sattarov was quoted as saying. “When I understood that, I repented and started preaching.”
Muslim leaders in Tatarstan said Sattarov’s views contradicted their own.
“Islam postulates that there are no other prophets after Mohammad,” Kazan-based theologian Rais Suleimanov said. “The teachings of Sattarov, who declared himself a prophet, have been rejected by traditional Muslims.”
Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the sect and have said it will be disbanded if it continues its illegal activities, such as stopping its members from seeking medical assistance or education.
Sattarov, who had declared himself a Muslim prophet, has been charged with the crime of “arbitrariness”, a broad crime that covers “actions contrary to the order presented by a law” that is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Four members of the sect have been charged with cruelty against children for allegedly keeping them underground.
Nineteen under-age children were removed by the Russian authorities, some of them placed in care, others in hospital.
“They looked nourished but dirty, so we had to wash them,” pediatrician Tatyana Moroz said in televised remarks. The children, aged between one and 17 years, had never left the compound, gone to school or been treated by a doctor.
Doctors “can do anything to them,” Fana Sayanova, a woman wearing a long white dress with her face veiled, told local television.
The cramped cells descend on eight levels under a decrepit, three-storey brick house on a 700 sq m (7,530 sq ft) plot of land that was built illegally and will be demolished, local police were quoted as saying.
“They will come with bulldozers and guns, but they will have to demolish this house over our dead bodies!” sect member Gumer Ganiyev said on the Vesti television channel. The ailing Satarov appointed Ganiyev as his deputy prophet, according to local media.
Police raided Satarov’s house last Friday as part of an investigation into the killing of Valiulla Yakupov, Tatarstan’s deputy chief mufti, who was gunned down in mid-July as he left his house in Kazan.
The same day, Mufti Ildus Fayzov, the head of Tatarstan’s Muslims, was wounded when his car blew up.
Both clerics were known as critics of radical Islamist groups that advocate a strict and puritanical version of Islam known as Salafism.
Prosecutors have named two suspects in Yakupov’s killing who remain at large and arrested five others in the case.