MAKHACHKALA, RUSSIA // The latest episode in Moscow's struggle with rebellious Muslims is unfolding here in Dagestan, a forbidding North Caucasian realm where peaks as high as 4,000 metres descend sharply to running rivers.
Suicide bombers have emerged. Each week, an average of three policemen are killed and numerous civilians become casualties. Tanks and helicopters, weapons blazing, pursue guerrillas in the woods.
Until recently, it was the insurgency in neighbouring Chechnya that had posed the biggest challenge to Russian leaders. But now, it is the traditionally independent and Muslim Dagestanis whose resentments are turning violent, finding expression in a conservative form of Islam taking root in the beautiful severity of the mountain landscape.