Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday opened one of the biggest mosques in Europe, warning against the lure of jihadists as the government frets over its citizens fighting for the Islamic State group. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas were the guests of honour at the unveiling of the 20,000-square metre mosque in the Russian capital.
“This mosque will become an extremely important spiritual centre for Muslims in Moscow and the whole Russia,” Putin said in a televised speech.
“It will be a source for education, spreading humanist ideas and the true values of Islam.”
The turquoise-domed mosque can host over 10,000 worshippers and is one of the largest in the country that will help to serve Russia’s estimated 20 million Muslims.
The $170 million (150 million-euro) project, which took a decade to complete, caused controversy over the destruction of an earlier mosque that stood on the site. Moscow — which has battled an Islamic insurgency in its volatile southern Caucasus region — is worried about the pull of extremist groups, especially Islamic State jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev last week estimated that some 1,800 Russian citizens are fighting for the radical group.
Putin in his speech lashed out at jihadist groups for their “attempts to cynically exploit religious feeling for political ends.” “We see what is happening in the Middle East where terrorists from the so-called Islamic State group are compromising a great world religion, compromising Islam, in order to sow hate,” he said.