Arsonists Target 3 Russian Churches; Burn 1 to Ground

Three churches in a predominantly Muslim province in Russia were set on fire by arsonists early Monday.

One of the buildings, an Orthodox church in the village of Ordzhonikidzevsky, was almost totally destroyed. The other two – an Orthodox church and a Baptist church in the nearby city of Karachaevsk – sustained only minimal damage after the night guard for one put out the fire and the night guard for the other called fire fighters.

No injuries were reported.

"According to preliminary information, all the three arson attacks happened between 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. on Monday," Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry spokesman Kazim Baybanov told Moscow-based Interfax.

Furthermore, all three fires were set when flammable objects were thrown through the churches' windows.

Though vandalism of churches is rare in Russia's mainly Muslim North Caucasus, where Christian communities live among Muslims, general violence has plagued the region.

In the Karachayevo-Cherkessia province, however, violence has been scarce even though insurgents consider the North Caucasus, including Karachayevo-Cherkessia, to be occupied territory.

Ismail Berdiev, head of the regional Spiritual Administration for Muslims, believes Monday's arsons were aimed at destabilizing the mixed Christian and Muslim society.

But Berdiev believes the attacks will have no such effect.

"Whatever religion a person believes in, he won't raise his hand against a temple or a mosque alike, for both of them are houses of God," he told RIA Novosti, the state news agency.

Karachayevo-Cherkessia, also referred to as Karachay-Cherkess, is home to about 440,000 people.

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