At least 57 members of an Islamist sect, including children, have been discovered living underground for at least a decade, according to Russia state media. Many of them have reportedly never seen the sun, the Guardian says.
The sect members, including a child as young as 18 months, were found August 1 during a police raid performed as part of an ongoing investigation into the recent killing of a top Muslim cleric in the republic of Tatarstan, reports say. The bunker, which appeared to be made of decrepit cement blocks, reportedly has multiple levels below ground with tight-quartered cells that have no light, ventilation or heat.
The leader of the sect is reportedly Fayzrahman Satarov, an 83-year-old who pronounced himself a prophet destined to direct a caliphate, according to a report by Russia state TV channel Vesti.
The bunker is located near the city of Kazan in Tartarstan, about 500 miles from Moscow.
Tatarstan is majority Muslim and oil rich.
Shireen T. Hunter is a noted scholar on Islam and Russia, and is the director of the Carnegie Project on Reformist Islam at Georgetown University. She has visited Tatarstan and Kazan several times to do research.
It's important, she said, to keep in mind that little is known about the group who were discovered and simply because the leader identifies himself as Islamic, there should not be immediate connections drawn between the group and Islam in the area as a whole.
"This could just be some 83-year-old who wants to control people," she said. "This may have nothing at all to do with radical or extreme Islam as we understand it. This man - creating a caliphate? How is he going to do that? This just doesn't seem like the modis operandi of a serious radical cell bent on challenging the government."
Kazan is a pleasant city with coffee and clothing shops. Some women wear hijabs, others don't. Some women work and other choose not to, she said. In recent years, many people have bought villas and other housing in Kazan.
It's conceivable to her that a group could live underground and go unnoticed for years.
"If I decided to live underground in Washington, D.C., I could do that, and so could other people," she said.
It's unclear what kind of child welfare system exists in Kazan, and what will happen to the children freed from the bunker.
Health worker Tatiana Moroz told CNN that the children are in "satisfactory condition" and that they have been fed.
The youths were "washed," she said. It's unclear what that means, or whether the children are being cared for in a way that might best suit someone who has been severely traumatized.
The children have been examined, she added, and health authorities will give a "final conclusion" about the condition of the young people.
CNN's Matthew Chance contributed to this report.