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Putin opens Moscow’s most elaborate mosque

MOSCOW — The most elaborate mosque ever built in Moscow, a city that is home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in Europe, was opened Wednesday by President Vladimir Putin.

Putin, in brief remarks, called the new, modern mosque the biggest in Europe and said that it was a worthy addition to a capital and a country built on the idea of uniting different nationalities and faiths. The mosque is a central part of Russia's efforts to develop its own system of Muslim religious education and training to counteract extremists seeking recruits, the president said.

"Terrorists from the so-called Islamic State actually cast a shadow on the great global religion of Islam," he said. "Their ideology is built on hate."

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The opening is a singular event for Moscow, where a wave of bombing attacks by Muslim extremists that started around 2000 generated a wave of animosity toward the faith that has never entirely ebbed.

"Finally, Moscow, which lays claim to the title of the biggest Muslim city in Europe, has a big mosque," said Aleksei Malashenko, an expert on Islam, at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "It shows that the center of Islamic life in the Russian Federation is in Moscow."

Mosque construction has long been fraught here — this project took a decade to come to fruition. The biggest chunk of the construction costs, about $170 million, came from a wealthy Russian oil tycoon, mosque officials said, but foreign governments also donated. They included Turkey, Kazakhstan, and even the Palestinian Authority, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, gave $25,000. He spoke at the inauguration, as did President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey; both criticized recent Israeli attacks on Palestinian worshipers.

Known as the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, the grand structure holds 10,000 people on three stories and replaced a much smaller one built in 1904. The previous two-story building — with a squat dome and two stunted minarets — could hold only 1,000 people.

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There are just three other official mosques in a city whose Muslim population is estimated to be as high as 2 million. No exact public numbers exist.

That would mean Muslims make up about 16 percent of the population in this city of 12.5 million, and that puts the capital in contention for the title of most Muslims in Europe, not counting Turkey.