EDITORS: Georgie Anne Geyer is taking a week of vacation and will not file columns for July 31 or Aug. 2. Her regular schedule resumes with the release for Aug. 7.
WASHINGTON -- Few Americans, even those who are familiar with the treacherous Russian landscape, know the amazing city of Kazan. It sits not quite all the way to the Ural Mountains from Moscow and is one of the most beautiful cities in the former Soviet Union. Kazan sits along the upper "Mother Volga" in Tatarstan, with a stunning white Kremlin built by Ivan the Terrible atop a hill where he could watch the river.
When I was in Kazan during Soviet days, with its mellow streets lined by the remnants of mansions from the 19th century and Lenin's old wooden family home, the city was already the center of Muslim life in the USSR. And its worth even then in oil, gas and military industries was such that Moscow kept Kazan off-limits to almost all foreigners.
But why attend now to this still largely unknown gem? Because when a leading Muslim cleric of Tatarstan was shot dead on July 21 and the head mufti himself was direly wounded by a car bomb, Kazan suddenly announced to the world that al-Qaida was most probably open for business in Central Asia. This is a deadly warning.
It is, in fact, the typical first warning that Islamic radicals, these probably from Chechnya, are determined to establish an Islamic "caliphate," or independent state under the horrors of Sharia law, over what was, in medieval times, the Tatar-Mongols' "Golden Horde."
As Al Jazeera reported this week, the violence "raised fears of the spread of militancy to Russia's heartland."
Both men who were attacked had been publicly critical of the radicals, or Salafists (followers of the ideology of al-Qaida), and had banned Salafist textbooks from Saudi Arabia in Kazan. But while it was not yet proven that the attackers were these radicals -- whom the Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan, and who still loom large in Iraq -- that was the major suspicion. The Kuwaiti Times wrote of the tragedy:
"The rise of Salafism in this oil-rich Volga River province has been fueled by the influx of Muslim clerics from Chechnya and other predominantly Muslim provinces of Russia's Caucasus region, where Islamic insurgency has been raging for years." Last year Chechen separatists "issued a religious decree calling on radical Islamists from the Caucasus to move to the densely populated Volga River region that includes Tatarstan."
Is it possible that the same al-Qaida who attacked us on 9/11, and whom we have fought against in two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and thought we had defeated in Iraq), is now appearing unexpectedly all over the world with its dastardly destructiveness?
-- In Mali in Western Africa, al-Qaida fighters have taken over the historic gem of Timbuktu, with its riches of 500-year-old Sufi Islamic tombs, testaments and schools. Salafists are terrorizing the entire region.
-- In the Maldive Islands, which lie off the southern coast of India between the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean and are known for the tourist houses nearly floating in the sea, Islamic radicals have overthrown the elected president and are now in charge.
-- In Nigeria, the large and vigorous country on the upper West Coast of Africa, Islamists in the north around Kano have been bitterly fighting the Christian population, the name of their group translating as "We hate Western education."
-- In Yemen, at the head of the Red Sea and at the bottom of Saudi Arabia (with which Yemenis historically don't get along), al-Qaida, with its frightening black-and-white flag reminiscent of pirates' flags, has taken over whole towns.
-- In Tajikistan, in southern Central Asia north of China and Afghanistan, several high-level assassinations in the last month have given weight to the suspicion that Salafists had targeted that poor, benighted place -- but there is yet no certainty about it.
Ironically, the one country we used to worry about for exporting radical Islam, Iran, went on the record as criticizing the Tatarstan terrorist attacks. It is "a phenomenon against all theological teachings and humanity," the foreign ministry said in its release. Of course, the Salafists are against Iran's Khomeini-style terrorism.
I suspect we are seeing the beginning of a new age of spreading radical Islamism, which will now send its unemployed and restless youths to the ends of the Earth. We had better be ready for anything.