By Albina Kovalyova, Charlene Gubash and Alastair Jamieson, NBC News
MOSCOW - Bombs and suicide belts were seized and 15 suspected members of Islamist extremist network At-Takfir Wal-Hijra arrested in raids, police in Russia said Wednesday.
Guns, grenades and extremist literature were also discovered during the operation, which came little over two months before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
At-Takfir Wal-Hijra is a radical Islamist group founded in the 1960s in Egypt by a Palestinian, Shoukri Mostafa. It has carried out targeted assassinations, notably a former government minister in 1977.
All of those detained were from Russia’s southern provinces of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kalmitiya, or from the neighboring countries of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, police said.
Fourteen were held in one raid in the east of Moscow on Tuesday night, according to Russian state news agency Interfax, while another suspect was detained early Wednesday.
The network is thought to have been funded by illegal activities, police said in a statement.
"It has been established that one of the detained has spent a long time studying Islam in Arab countries, and arrived to Moscow after that, and it is here that he created a so-called ‘jamaat’ - an underground movement - made up of 15 people, which included natives of the North Caucasus, South Caucasus, Central Asia and Russians,” the statement said.
Such raids are common in Dagestan – birthplace of Boston marathon bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – but not in the Russian capital.
"During the raid of the members of the organization, three homemade explosives with detonators and debris was found in their possession - one of which can be used to attach to … a Shaheed belt [suicide belt] - also components of explosives such as wires, explosives and arms: Guns, grenades and bullets and extremist literature,” Russian police spokesman Vladimir Konovalov said.
NBC News' Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo. Alastair Jamieson reported from London.
First published November 27 2013, 5:09 AM