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 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 many years -- until authorities raided the compound last week and freed 27 sons and daughters of the sect.
Ages 1 to 17, the children rarely saw the light of day and had never left the property, attended school or been seen by 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, said Irina Petrova, deputy prosecutor in the Tatarstan provincial capital of Kazan.
The children were discovered when police searched the sect grounds as part of an investigation into the recent killing of a top Tatarstan Muslim cleric, an attack local officials blame on radical Islamist groups.
Satarov ordered his followers to live in cells they dug under a three-story brick house topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon. Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the premises to work as traders at a local market, Russian media reported.
The children were examined at hospitals and will temporarily live in an orphanage, said Dr. Tatyana Moroz, a pediatrician. "They looked nourished but dirty," she said in televised remarks.
The decrepit house was built illegally and will be demolished, Tatarstan police said.
"They will come with bulldozers and guns, but they will have to demolish this house over our dead bodies!" sect member Gumer Ganiyev said on the Vesti television channel.
The ailing Satarov appointed Ganiyev as his deputy prophet, according to local reports.
Satarov reportedly has had followers in several other cities in Tatarstan and other Volga River provinces.
In a 2008 interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily, Satarov said that he fell out with other clerics and authorities during the Communist era, when he said the KGB sent him to Muslim nations with stories about religious freedom in the officially atheist Soviet Union. Government-approved Orthodox Christian, Muslim and Jewish clerics routinely traveled abroad on Soviet publicity trips.
"That's how I became Satan's servant, a traitor," the white-bearded and turbaned man was quoted as saying. "When I understood that, I repented and started preaching."
Police raided Satarov's house Friday as part of an investigation into the killing of Valiulla Yakupov, Tatarstan's deputy chief mufti, who was gunned down in mid-July as he left his house in Kazan. Minutes later, chief mufti Ildus Faizov was wounded in the legs when a bomb blast ripped through his car in Kazan.
Both clerics were known as critics of radical Islamist groups that advocate a strict and puritanical version of Islam known as Salafism.