Russians take action to combat Satanist crime

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WHEN police found her body, Elizaveta Kuzmina was lying with her throat slit on the floor of her flat in western Moscow.

Chillingly, on the door, someone had written in red chalk: "My matrix has found me."

Friends said Ms Kuzmina, 19, the daughter of a popular Russian rock singer, Vladimir Kuzmin, had been dabbling with the occult.

It was a claim taken seriously by detectives; they said their inquiry was starting with acquaintances of the young woman, who had been known to frequent Satanist groups.

Muscovites are facing up to the disturbing fact that Ms Kuzmina’s murder in December might not be a one-off occurrence.

This week, worried officials from Russia’s interior ministry admitted they have been forced to set up a special unit to investigate the activities of devil-worshipping sects.

A spokesman for the ministry’s chief criminal directorate said satanic groups had several thousand participants in Russia, about 500 of them in Moscow.

Ritual sacrifices and savage physical attacks are commonplace among the worshippers, said Aleksandr Grichanin, deputy chief of the directorate.

Mr Grichanin stressed that Satanists were recruiting disaffected teenagers, mostly aged 13 to 17, some of who might also be attracted to racist skinhead gangs.

Moscow alone has about 15 Satanist groups , including the Black Angel, the Left Path, the Church of the 13th Apostle and the Order of the Silver Star.

Such groups are feared to have committed rapes, killings, dismemberments, orgies and church and grave desecrations.

Their worship is thought to revolve around black magic and reverence for numbers and symbols such as "666", "A", an upturned five-pointed star within a circle, a skull split in half, crosses turned upside down and swastikas.

The Satanists are part of a growing phenomenon of extremism in Russia, which has seen up to 20,000 people join skinhead gangs.

The state’s action to tackle the occult comes in the wake of a campaign by the Russian Orthodox Church to stamp out such worship.

Three years ago a priest in a small Siberian town was ritually slain. Gennady Yakovlev was stabbed in the heart and neck with a pick by a vagrant he had befriended, who then cut off his head with a pocket knife.

The man then carried Fr Yakovlev’s severed head into the chapel adjoining the priest’s home and circled the altar, leaving a ring of blood on the floor and placed the head on the altar.

A statement at the time by the Krasnoyarsk diocese said: "We see the tragedy as a consequence of wide advertising of all sorts of pseudo-religiousness, a return to the wild pagan cults of Satanism and cultivation of new types of polytheism."

Some Orthodox priests see the spread of devil worship as a direct consequence of Russian teenagers’ obsession with doom-laden western rock music and the drug abuse some of it appears to endorse.

"Satanism has a tendency to grow, and that tendency is a very threatening one," said Father Anatoly Berestov, a priest who chairs a centre for the rehabilitation of former sect and occult members. "Satanism is closely connected with people’s lifestyles. We are looking at the West, at the USA, and this trash basically comes from there."

But the fight could be creating its own problems, with the witch hunt appearing to be running out of control shortly after the death of Kuzmina, the rock star’s daughter.

The Moscow prosecutor’s office announced it was launching an investigation into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets after a complaint from the International Foundation of Slavic Culture. Charges that the book contained "signs of religious extremism and involved pupils in religious organisations of a satanic character" were dismissed.

This week, the pro-Kremlin youth organisation Moving Together threw its weight behind the campaign to stamp out ungodly worship.

The group placed a five-tonne stone at the entrance to St Petersburg’s mayoralty in the Smolny palace, an act designed to "give weight" to their call for the city’s Scientologists’ Church to be closed. Moving Together considers the Scientologists to be a "satanic and criminal sect" whose premises should be closed down.

Activists have put up a tent in front of the Scientologists’ Church on the city’s Vosstaniya Square. "We have spent almost two weeks in front of the church and managed to reduce the inflow of new members to this organisation and to collect thousands of signatures under an appeal to the city authorities to close the sect," said a spokesman for the youth movement.

The Scientologists have protested that "those who oppose us are possibly trying to incite religious enmity".