Over 50 detained, possible explosive found in illegal prayer hall in southern Russia

© Igor Zarembo
An illegal prayer hall has been discovered in the southern Russian city of Samara. During a law enforcement special operation, more than 50 "bearded men" were detained at the scene, with police now checking their identities, according to a security source.

A prayer hall which had not been registered with any official religious body was discovered in the suburbs of Samara, a source in law enforcement confirmed to RT on Friday.

The hall was a place for Salafis to gather, according to an RT source. Salafis are followers of an ultra-conservative movement within Sunni Islam.

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"When our forces entered the premises today, they discovered over 50 bearded men there," the source said, adding that all of them have been then delivered to a police station, where further checks are now underway.

"Their identities are being investigated, to find out whether any of them are complicit in any crimes or are part of international terror organizations," the source added.

An unidentified substance was also found at the place of the fundamentalists' gathering. According to preliminary analysis, it could be an explosive.

Eyewitnesses have heard an explosion at the scene, which was a controlled blast conducted by demolition experts, TASS reported. According to the agency, the surrounding neighborhood was fully blocked off by police.

Extremist literature was also discovered in the hall, Interfax reported.

Members of the Salafi group have previously been on a Russian security forces list, the agency reported citing an FSB official. Some of them have been associated with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terror group, he said, adding that while some members have been fighting in Syria, one particular man from Samara voiced one of IS terrorists' videos on Youtube.

Further searches are conducted at the scene.

Earlier in April, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has detained five members of a radical Islamic group in the Volgograd Region also in southern Russia. The group recruited fighters for IS and planned a terror attack in the region, FSB said.

After a series of deadly blasts in the Belgian capital of Brussels in March, FSB head has addressed the media saying that terrorist threats exist in Russia, but "the situation is under control."

"We do all we can to obtain firsthand information, we concentrate on prevention," the Russian security chief Aleksandr Bortnikov said.