"Miracle" baby gives hope in Russian Muslim south
By Amie Ferris-Rotman
KIZLYAR, Russia (Reuters) - A "miracle" baby has brought a kind of mystical hope to people in Russia's mostly Muslim southern fringe who are increasingly desperate in the face of Islamist violence.
From hunchbacked grandmas to schoolboys, hundreds of pilgrims lined up this week in blazing sunshine to get a glimpse of 9-month-old baby Ali Yakubov, on whose body they say verses from the Koran appear and fade every few days.
Pinkish in color and several centimeters high, the Koranic verse "Be thankful or grateful to Allah" was printed on the infant's right leg in clearly legible Arabic script this week, religious leaders said. Visiting foreign journalists later saw a single letter after the rest had vanished.
"The fact that this miracle happened here is a signal to us to take the lead and help our brothers and sisters find peace," said Sagid Murtazaliyev, head of the Kizlyar region about 150 km (95 miles) north of Makhachkala, the sprawling Dagestani capital on the Caspian Sea.
"We must not forget there is a war going on here," he told Muslim leaders who had invited the press to witness what they unequivocally claim is a sign from God.
Islam in Russia is widely believed to have originated in ethnically rich Dagestan, where 3 million people speak over 30 languages and whose ancient walled city of Derbent claims to be Russia's oldest city.
A spate of recent suicide bombs and armed attacks on police and security services in Dagestan, Ingushetia and neighboring Chechnya, where Russia has fought two separatist wars, has shattered a few years of relative calm in the North Caucasus.
Local leaders have told President Dmitry Medvedev they are struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency pervading all spheres of society in the north Caucasus -- a region named after the Caucasus mountains that divide Russia from strategically important Georgia and Azerbaijan, where oil and gas pipelines flow to the West. Continued...