Airport bomber converted by Russian imam: report

Police reportedly honed in on Vitaly Razdobudko after connecting him with Islamist militant group Nogaisky Dzhamaat and a December 31 blast in Moscow where a would-be female suicide bomber accidentally blew herself up.

Investigators said Razdobudko has been missing from his apartment in the southern resort town of Pyatigorsk in the Stavropol region since last November along with his wife and a newborn baby.

Razdobudko, 32, converted from Christianity and adopted Islam when he was a student in the local technical university. He was formally converted by a local imam in Pyatigorsk, a Russian named Anton Stepanenko, a report said.

Stepanenko, whose Muslim name is Abdullah, was convicted of holding a man captive in 2006, and police found Wahhabist literature, audio and video materials, as well as a manual on explosives, in his home.

He received a suspended sentence after the Muslim community, including the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia Ravil Gainutdin, spoke in his defence and wrote an open letter to then-president Vladimir Putin.

Razdobudko, who has already been branded "Russian Wahhabi" by the press, went missing two months after he was questioned about a blast in Pyatigorsk last August. He was not the suicide bomber who set off the blast in Domodedovo on Monday, RIA Novosti reported today. A video camera "clearly shows that it is a different person," a police source told the agency. Instead, it appears he is suspected of being a possible organiser, it added.

A Russian Islamist organiser proselytised by a Russian imam could signify a trend already manifest in Europe and the United States of the spread of radical Islam among non-Muslims.

"People are disenchanted by the government, the customs and politics of the Orthodox church," said Sergei Arutyunov an ethnographer and expert on the Caucasus in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He said however, that conversion of Russians into Islam is not likely prompt a change in tack from the security services. "It won't make the work of security forces more challenging -- they already work very poorly."

"The problem is not that there are Wahhabis among people of Slavic ethnicity, it is much more serious: a whole generation grew up in this war, people that were formed by its ideology," said security expert Alexander Goltz.

"In a megapolis, fighting terror using ethnic principles is useless," he told AFP. "Detaining men with dark hair and big noses -- that's not a tactic that works."

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