Sep 19, 2006

Crimean Tatars: Assassination Attempt against Leader Failed

Assailants threw an incendiary device into a building in Ukraine's Crimea province while the elected head of the Crimea's ethnic Tartar community was present.
Kiev- Assailants threw an incendiary device into a building adjoining a mosque in Ukraine's Crimea province, a region heavily settled by ethnic Tartars, the Interfax news agency reported Monday. A member of a group of ten to twelve men that approached the building in the Crimean regional capital Simferopol on Sunday evening was likely responsible for the attack, police said, citing security camera recordings.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the elected head of the Crimea's ethnic Tartar community, and Remzi Ilyasov, a leading Tartar politician, was in the administrative building at the time of the attack.

Neither was injured and security guards extinguished the device quickly. News reports described the object variously as a smoke grenade, a pipe bomb, and a Molotov cocktail.

Besides a mosque, Dzhemilev's office is adjacent to the Crimean Tartar Medzhlis, an semi-secular legislature with authority to make law for the region's Tartar community.

Police and agents from Ukraine's national security agency the SBU were looking for suspects on Monday. The search was complicated as the attackers had covered their faces with masks prior to the attack, the video tapes showed.

Tension is high in the Crimean region between Tartars, almost all of whom consider themselves Sunni Muslims, and the province's ethnic Slavs, most of whom are Orthodox Christians.

A summer dispute between Tartars and Slavs over whether or not an open air market near Simferopol should operate on ground formerly used as a Moslem cemetary resulted in three mass fist fights requiring police intervention and hospitalizations.

The last physical attack on the Tartar Medzhlis building took place in February 2005.

Ethnic Slavs including Russians and Ukrainians outnumber Tartars roughly two to one in Crimea, with the Slavs owning almost all the businesses and productive land, and the Tartars generally living in poverty.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin expelled Tartars from the Crimea in 1944. After the break-up of the Soviet Union hundreds of thousands of Tartars returned to the region, coming into conflict with Slavs having settled on traditionally Tartar lands.