Three churches were set ablaze on Monday in Russia's mainly Muslim North Caucasus region where Moscow is trying to tame a spreading Islamist insurgency.
Two Russian Orthodox churches and one Baptist Church were set alight in the predominantly Muslim province of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Russian news agencies said, adding no one was hurt in the attacks.
"An unknown group of people set fire to the Russian Orthodox church in the village of Ordzhonikidze, it is practically completely burnt," Interfax reported, citing Kazim Baybanov, a spokesman for the local ministry of interior affairs. Vandalism of churches is rare in Russia's mainly Muslim North Caucasus, where Christian communities live amongst Muslims.
A decade after Moscow drove separatists out of power in Chechnya in the second of two wars, the North Caucasus is plagued by near-daily violence. Youths angry about poverty and fuelled by the global ideology of jihad (holy war) are fighting for an independent state separate from predominantly Christian Russia, where they want to establish Sharia, Islamic law.
However, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, which has a sizeable Christian minority, has seen almost no violence. The insurgents consider the North Caucasus, including Karachayevo-Cherkessia, to be occupied territory.
Archbishop Feofan of the Christian-majority cities of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz, also in the North Caucasus, told state news agency RIA he was going to the site of the arson. Local authorities said they would restore the Orthodox churches as soon as possible..