MOSCOW — A self-proclaimed prophet had a vision from God: He would build an Islamic caliphate under the earth.
The digging began about a decade ago and 70 followers soon moved into an eight-level subterranean honeycomb of cramped cells with no light, heat or ventilation.
Children were born. They, too, lived in the cold underground cells for years — until authorities raided the compound last week and freed the 27 sons and daughters of the sect.
Ages 1 to 17, the children rarely saw the light of day and never left the property, attended school or saw a doctor, officials said Wednesday. Their parents — sect members who call themselves "muammin," from the Arabic for "believers" — were charged with child abuse.
The sect's 83-year-old founder, Faizrakhman Satarov, who declared himself a prophet in contradiction to the principles of Islam, was charged with negligence, officials in the provincial capital of Kazan said.
The children were found when police searched the grounds in Tatarstan as part of an investigation into the recent killing of a top Muslim cleric, an attack local officials blame on radical Islamist groups.
The children were examined at hospitals and will temporarily live in an orphanage, pediatrician Tatyana Moroz said. "They looked nourished but dirty," she said in televised remarks.
Satarov ordered his followers to live in cells they dug under a three-story brick house. Only a few sect members were allowed to leave to work as traders at a local market, Russian media reported.
The decrepit house was built illegally and will be demolished, Tatarstan police said.
Satarov had followers in several other cities in Tatarstan and other Volga River provinces, local media reported.