Moscow imam under house arrest over allegations of publicly justifying terrorism

Mahmoud Velitov. © Марат Ибатуллин
An imam of one of Moscow's mosques, Mahmoud Velitov, has been put under house arrest by a court decision following his detention by Russian law enforcement. The Islamic worship leader allegedly justified terrorism during a public speech at his mosque.

The imam was detained in the Russian capital in connection with a criminal case against him, Russia's Investigative Committee announced on Tuesday. The head of one of Moscow's Muslim communities is being accused of "public justification of terrorism," which is a crime in Russia, the official statement said.

If found guilty, the imam faces up to five years in prison.

According to investigators, in September 2013 Velitov, while being a council head and imam of a religious organization, delivered a public speech during prayers at the mosque in north-eastern Moscow, which can accommodate some 2,000 worshipers. In his speech, the imam allegedly justified activities of a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Party of Liberation) group, which is considered a terrorist organization and banned in Russia.

The multinational radical group has presence in a number of countries, but is particularly active in Central Asia, where it seeks creation of an Islamic caliphate.

While investigation continues, the court has decided to put the imam under house arrest until late August, Interfax reported. He has been forbidden to use any means of electronic communication, including internet, mobile and landline phones.

READ MORE: Putin signs controversial new anti-terror bill into law

Velitov's lawyer, Dagir Khasavov, said the arrest endangered the imam's life, as he had recently had a "serious surgery." Writing on Facebook, the lawyer said both Velitov's home and mosque have been searched and Islamic literature seized. There have been reports some extremist literature was found among the imam's belongings.