Tsarnaev Imam: "America Will Soon Collapse."

Congregants at the mosque on Kotrova Street have often been killed in shootouts with Russia’s counterterrorism forces.


You know things are bad when a Time Magazine reporter begins his story with a paragraph like this.

The officials told the Post that the Tsarnaev brothers were “self-radicalized,” meaning that their views were shaped by what they saw online and knew of U.S. actions in the Muslim world. But judging by the opinion of the U.S. that Gasanaliev expressed to TIME, Tamerlan’s alleged politics would at least have been reinforced by the views upheld at the mosque on Kotrova Street.

From there Imam Khasan-Khadzhi Gasanaliev expresses his belief that America is a den of mass murderers and will be destroyed and his disregard for the victims of the bombing.

“America will soon collapse. It will disappear,” Gasanaliev said matter-of-factly after sitting down with TIME for an exclusive interview. “How many years did the Arabic Caliphate rule? For hundreds of years, the world was ruled by the Arabic Caliphate. And it was a wonderful ruler. Now America is the great power. But tomorrow it will fall apart, a few more hurricanes, a few more of something else.” Pausing for a moment, he switches to a different tone: “But today, we must all look each other in the eyes honestly, wish each other well, respect each other and love each other. There should be no violence.”

Last week’s violence in Boston confuses him not because it was indiscriminate, but because it has caused such an uproar, bringing a pack of journalists to Dagestan with questions for him and his mosque. “Somebody from somewhere was killed, or something was fabricated, and so much noise because of this,” he says with bewilderment. “How much has America done in Vietnam, in all its wars everywhere. Right now it is turning the entire Arab world upside down. They kill hundreds, thousands, millions of people and nobody is interested. But over there someone does something, blows something up, someone is killed, and because of this they send so many people [journalists] here. They are surprised by this.”

Imam Khasan-Khadzhi Gasanaliev claims that his mosque is not political, but it clearly is, as the reporter sticks around to learn that the bland sermon he heard is not typical.

Few of them would speak openly to a reporter afterward, but some of those who did said they appreciated the mosque on Kotrova Street for not shying from political and social issues. “He tells it straight,” a worshipper named Magomedgadzhi said of the imam, declining to give his surname. “He can criticize the people in power if they deserve it. You don’t really hear that anywhere else.”

And what does telling it straight mean?

Gasanaliev said no security services have visited the mosque since the Boston bombings. But in the past, the scrutiny of the FSB has been nearly constant, and it is little wonder why. Congregants at the mosque on Kotrova Street have often been killed in shootouts with Russia’s counterterrorism forces.

The Salafi bookstore across the street offers literature that has been blacklisted by the state. Tucked in among copies of the Koran and video lectures on such topics as courtship and divorce, there are the tracts of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamic political party that operates freely in the West but is banned in Russia as an extremist organization, as well as in other former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

The curious thing is that Gasanaliev is the deputy mufti of Dagestan. In Russia, Islamic clergy are closely monitored and like all official clergy, often report to the authorities and work for them. If the FSB really thinks a cleric is a problem, he vanishes.

It's quite likely that the security services are playing a double game, sponsoring some Salafists, partly to get a line on terrorist groups and partly to make use of them in terrorist attacks. One of the reasons that the Russians may be slow to cooperate in this case, beyond what they already offered, is that they are protecting their sources.