vast network of volunteers to mobilize voters and secure victories.

When he was chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi saw firsthand how unchecked communal tensions could turn into bloodletting.

In 2002, a train fire killed 59 Hindu pilgrims. Although the cause was disputed, violent mobs, in response, targeted the Muslim community, leaving more than 1,000 people dead, many burned alive.

Rights organizations and opposition leaders accused Mr. Modi of looking the other way. He rejected the allegations as political attacks.

took an oath to turn India into a Hindu state, even if it meant killing for it.

role model.”

he said.

telling them.

The police arrested Mr. Narsinghanand on Jan. 15, and he was charged in court with hate speech.

“He said nothing wrong,” said Swami Amritanand, an organizer of the Haridwar event. “We are doing what America is doing, we are doing what Britain is doing.”

Mr. Amritanand said the call for arms was justified because “within the next 10 to 12 years there will be a horrible war that will play out in India.”

Late last month, the monks again sounded a violent call to create a Hindu state, this time at an event hundreds of miles away from Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh. They threatened violence — referencing a bombing of India’s assembly — if Mr. Narsinghanand was not released.

Ms. Pandey described their actions as defensive. “We must prepare to protect ourselves,” she said.

To the Haridwar police, the event in Uttar Pradesh did not count as a repeat offense. Rakendra Singh Kathait, the senior police officer in Haridwar, said Mr. Narsinghanand was in jail because he had acted again in the city; others like Ms. Pandey got a warning.

“If she goes and says it from Kolkata, it doesn’t count as repeat here,” Mr. Kathait said.

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Live Updates: Pentagon Leaders Speak After ISIS Leader’s Death

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Video footage shows the aftermath of a U.S. raid in which the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, was killed.CreditCredit…Yahya Nemah/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Biden said on Thursday that the leader of the Islamic State died during a raid by U.S. Special Operations commandos in a risky pre-dawn attack in northwest Syria. Rescue workers said women and children were among at least 13 people killed during the raid.

In brief remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden said the choice to target the ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, using the Special Forces was made to minimize civilian casualties, despite the greater risk to American troops.

Speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, Mr. Biden was understated as he described the ISIS leader’s history, saying that he had ordered a series of atrocities, including against the Yazidi people. “Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more.”

He said the operation was a warning to terrorist groups.

“This operation is testament to America’s reach and capability to take out terrorist threats no matter where they try to hide anywhere in the world,” he said.

Mr. Biden said Mr. al-Qurayshi died when he exploded a bomb that killed him as well as members of his own family.

Before his White House remarks, Mr. Biden said in a statement, “All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”

John F. Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, addressed the casualties associated with the raid in a news conference on Thursday afternoon. “To the degree there’s loss of innocent lives, it’s caused by Abdullah and his lieutenants,” he said, using a nickname for Mr. al-Quaryshi. He said the U.S. forces were able to evacuate 10 civilians from the building, including several children.

The helicopter-borne assault carried out by about two dozen American commandos, backed by helicopter gunships, armed Reaper drones and attack jets, resembled the raid in October 2019 in which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the previous leader of the Islamic State, died when he detonated a suicide vest as U.S. forces raided a hide-out not far from where Thursday’s operation took place.

The airborne raid came days after the end of the largest U.S. combat involvement with the Islamic State since the end of the jihadists’ so-called caliphate three years ago. American forces backed a Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria as it fought for more than a week to oust Islamic State fighters from a prison they had occupied in the city of Hasaka.

Little is known about Mr. al-Qurayshi, who succeeded Mr. al-Baghdadi, or ISIS’s top command structure. But analysts said the death of the Islamic State leader was a significant blow to the terrorist group.

American helicopters ferried the commandos into position after midnight, surrounding a house in Atmeh, a town close to the border with Turkey in rebel-held Idlib Province, according to eyewitnesses, social media reports and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain.

A tense standoff briefly ensued, with loudspeakers blaring warnings in Arabic for everyone in the house to surrender, neighbors said. Then an explosion rocked the building. After that, some of the house’s occupants had not emerged and a major battle erupted, with heavy machine gun fire and apparent missile strikes.

During the operation, one of the American helicopters suffered a mechanical problem, was forced to land and was later destroyed by American attack aircraft. After about three hours, the American commandos and their remaining helicopters flew off, witnesses said.

Given the fluid nature of early reports in a complex raid like Thursday’s operation, the military’s initial version may be incomplete. Accounts of other events have at times turned out to be contradictory or sometimes flat wrong.

Reporting was contributed by Falih Hassan, Muhammad Najdat Hij Kadour, Asmaa al-Omar, Hwaida Saad and Evan Hill.

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On Patrol: 12 Days With a Taliban Police Unit in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Taliban fighter with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his finger warily watched the stream of approaching cars as he stood in front of a set of steel barricades.

Friday prayers would begin soon at the Sakhi Shah-e Mardan shrine and mosque, a holy Shiite site in central Kabul that he was guarding.

There had been two bombings of Shiite mosques in Afghanistan by the Islamic State in recent months, killing dozens, and this 18-year-old Taliban fighter, Mohammad Khalid Omer, wasn’t taking any chances.

He and his police unit of five other fighters, colloquially known as the Sakhi unit after the shrine they defend, represents the Taliban’s vanguard in their newest struggle after the group’s stunning takeover of the country in August: They won the war, but can they secure the peace in a multiethnic country racked by more than 40 years of violence?

economic hardships gripping their countrymen, with the same threat of Islamic State attacks and with the raucous, puzzling, winding streets and back alleys of Kabul, a city of about 4.5 million people that they are practically strangers to.

The Sakhi unit lives full time next to the shrine in a small concrete room painted bright green with a single electric heater. Steel bunk beds line the walls. The only decoration is a single poster of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca.

the Taliban’s interim government, composed almost entirely of Pashtun hard-liners who are emblematic of the movement’s harsh rule in the 1990s, and who are perceived as anti-Hazara.

As he spoke in the unit’s cramped barracks, a small speaker often played “taranas,” the spoken prayer songs, without musical accompaniment, popular with the Talibs.

One of the group’s favorites was a song about losing one’s comrades, and the tragedy of youth lost. In a high thin voice, the singer intones, “O death, you break and kill our hearts.”

On a fall day last year as the Sakhi unit looked on, families gathered on the tiled terraces around the shrine, drinking tea and sharing food.

Some cautiously eyed the Talibs patrolling the site, and one group of young men rushed to put out their cigarettes as they approached. The Taliban generally frown on smoking, and the unit has at times physically punished smokers.

Another day, two teenage boys came to the shrine, brazenly strolling with their two girlfriends. They were confronted by the Sakhi unit, who asked what they were doing. Unsatisfied with their answers, the Talibs dragged the boys into their bunk room to answer for the transgression. In conservative Afghanistan, such public consorting is taboo, doubly so in a holy site under Taliban guard.

Inside their room, there was an argument among the Sakhi unit about how to handle the two boys: good cop versus bad cop. Hekmatullah Sahel, one of the more experienced members of the unit, disagreed with his comrades. He pushed for a verbal lashing rather than a physical one. He was overruled.

When the teenagers were finally allowed to leave, shaken by the beating they had just received, Mr. Sahel called out to the boys, telling them to come back again — but without their girlfriends.

The episode was a reminder to the shrine’s visitors that the Taliban fighters, while generally friendly, could still revert to the tactics that defined their religious hard-line rule in the 1990s.

For the group of six fighters, contending with flirting teenagers was just another indicator that their days of fighting a guerrilla war were over. Now they spend their time preoccupied by more quotidian policing considerations, like spotting possible bootleggers (alcohol in Afghanistan is banned), finding fuel for their unit’s pickup and wondering whether their commander will grant them leave for the weekend.

Mr. Omer had joined the unit only months before. “I joined the Islamic Emirate because I had a great desire to serve my religion and country,” he said.

But to some Talibs, Mr. Omer is what is derisively called a “21-er” — a fighter who only joined the movement in 2021, as victory loomed. This new generation of Talibs bring new expectations with them, chief among them the desire for a salary.

They and most other rank-and-file fighters have never received a salary from the movement. Despite seizing billions in American-supplied weapons and matériel, the Taliban are still far from being well equipped. Fighters are dependent on their commanders for basic supplies, and they have to scrounge for anything extra.

Mr. Sahel, at 28, is older than most of his comrades, slower to excite and more restrained. He spent four years studying at a university, working the whole time as a clandestine operative for the movement. “None of my classmates knew that I was in the Taliban,” he said. He graduated with a degree in physics and math education, but returned to the fight.

Relieved the war is over, he and his comrades still miss the sense of purpose it provided. “We are happy that our country was liberated and we are currently living in peace,” he said, but added, “we are very sad for our friends who were martyred.”

Every few weeks, the men are allowed to visit their families back in Wardak for two days. On a crisp morning in November, Mr. Inqayad sat in his home in the Masjid Gardena valley, a beautiful collection of orchards and fields hemmed in by mountain peaks.

He explained that many families in the area had lost sons to the fighting, and estimated that 80 percent of the families in the area were Taliban supporters.

Mr. Inqayad attended school until the seventh grade, but had to drop out. Religious studies filled in some gaps. He joined the Taliban at 15.

Recently married, he faces new challenges now that the movement is in power. The only potential breadwinner in his family, he needs a salary to support his wife, mother and sisters, but so far he has not been drawing one.

Back in Kabul, the Sakhi unit loaded up for a night patrol, bundling up to combat the cold wind that blows incessantly from the mountains ringing the city.

Mr. Omer rode in the bed of the unit’s truck, a machine gun resting on his lap and bands of ammunition wrapped around his neck like party beads.

But there was little to warrant the heavy weaponry meant for suppressing enemy troops. Their area of responsibility was quiet, and the men seemed bored as they spun around the city as packs of street dogs chased and snapped at the tires of passing cars.

Sami Sahak contributed reporting.

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Analysis: W. Africa coups show limits of diplomacy, opening door to new players

  • Coups across West Africa show limits of diplomatic pressure
  • Poverty and Islamist violence mean people are losing patience
  • Regional bloc ECOWAS’ sanctions on Mali have not hurt junta yet
  • In Burkina Faso and beyond, French influence waning
  • Others stepping into vacuum, including Russia

DAKAR, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Earlier this month, West African countries slapped tough economic sanctions on Mali to punish coup leaders seeking to extend their hold on power, and to halt a run of military takeovers that have beset the region since 2020.

Burkina Faso’s military did not get the message. On Monday, two weeks after the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced the sanctions, the Burkinabe army arrested President Roch Kabore and seized power.

As the international community condemned West Africa’s fourth coup in 18 months, crowds in the capital Ouagadougou cheered the Burkinabe army – a contrast to anti-coup protests that erupted when the military briefly seized power in 2015.

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The reaction echoed scenes in Mali and Guinea, whose coup leaders received warm welcomes at home.

West African nations and international allies have struggled to mount an effective response, as populations lose faith in governments many see as manipulating the democratic process and unable to alleviate poverty or repel Islamist militant violence.

The problems pre-date recent coups. Unlike its vocal opposition to military takeovers, ECOWAS remained silent as sitting presidents maintained their grip on power by extending terms under what critics call “constitutional coups”.

“Today, ECOWAS is not a credible institution to people,” said Abdoulaye Barry, a Burkinabe researcher at the United Nations’ University for Peace.

“As long as they are not going to offer adequate responses to the governance deficit, coups are going to multiply.”

An ECOWAS spokesperson was not available to comment on its track record.

Other countries, including France and European allies, have maintained a military presence in the region, and partner local armed forces to fight groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State, meaning military support continues despite criticism of coups.

France in particular has deployed thousands of troops to West Africa’s Sahel region over the past decade, but security has progressively deteriorated, fuelling anti-French sentiment.

OPENING FOR RUSSIA?

The sanctions and international condemnations have arguably bolstered coup leaders’ standing at home.

Mali’s military-led transitional government, which took power in an August 2020 coup, went back on a commitment to hold elections next month. Instead, it proposed to rule for another four years.

ECOWAS’ sanctions included locking Mali out of regional financial markets and closing its borders, potentially devastating blows for the impoverished landlocked country.

Although the pain caused by rising food prices and shortages could yet turn people against the authorities, forcing the junta to the negotiating table, for now sanctions appear to be having the opposite effect.

Protests against the sanctions, which even some critics of the junta criticise as draconian, drew tens of thousands into the streets. People held signs that read: “Down with ECOWAS” and “Down with France”.

Coup leaders have found new allies. As tensions with France rose, Mali’s interim government struck a deal with Russia to send in military trainers.

France and its Western allies say many of these trainers are mercenaries from a private military contractor under European Union sanctions. Malian authorities deny this.

“Coalitions outside the traditional U.N. structures are emerging and staking a claim to security and economic partnerships in Africa,” a West African diplomat said, citing Russia, China, Turkey and the Gulf States.

On Tuesday, Alexander Ivanov, the official representative of Russian military trainers in Central African Republic, issued a statement on the situation in Burkina Faso.

“I believe that if Russian instructors are invited to train the Burkina Faso army, they will be able to do so effectively,” Ivanov said.

The new Burkinabe authorities have not commented on any potential Russian deployment. At the pro-coup rally on Tuesday, some in the crowd held Russian flags.

Alliances closer to home may also undermine attempts to punish military takeovers.

When ECOWAS ordered member states to close borders with Mali, Guinea said it would not comply, allowing continued access to the port of Conakry. The junta in Burkina Faso, which also borders Mali, has not yet said if it will do the same.

ROOT CAUSES

ECOWAS, founded in 1975 to promote economic integration in post-colonial West Africa, can still inflict pain through sanctions.

Nearly 30% of Mali’s trade is with ECOWAS member states, according to U.N. data, and food prices are starting to rise in the capital Bamako, residents say.

But diplomats and analysts said the influence of ECOWAS and foreign powers traditionally active in the region has been hampered by eroding credibility.

Some traced that back to 2015, when the bloc came close to banning presidential third terms after Burkina Faso’s veteran leader Blaise Compaore was ousted the previous year in an uprising sparked by his efforts to extend his time in office.

Such a move would have been a first for an African regional body, but it never happened.

ECOWAS was silent in 2020 as the presidents of Guinea and Ivory Coast won third terms after altering constitutions that barred them from running again.

“ECOWAS needs to address the root causes of the recent coups … including the situations where governments manipulate the constitutions to remain in power,” said Said Djinnit, the former commissioner for peace and security at the African Union and top U.N. diplomat in West Africa.

Anger over Guinean President Alpha Conde’s third term was one of the reasons the military cited when it overthrew him last September.

Guinea’s ruling junta has promised to oversee a transition back to democracy but has declined to set a date for elections. ECOWAS has imposed targeted sanctions against junta members and their families.

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Reporting by Aaron Ross in Dakar and David Lewis in Nairobi; Editing by Edward McAllister and Mike Collett-White

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Syria Live Updates: Kurdish-Led Militia Claims to Retake Prison Stormed by ISIS

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The prison at the center of the fighting in northeastern Syria was never meant to be a prison.

Built years ago as a training institute, the complex was taken over by the Kurdish-led militia that partnered with the United States and other nations to fight the Islamic State.

As the jihadists’ so-called caliphate collapsed several years ago and its fighters were captured, that militia, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, fortified the Sinaa prison in the city of Hasaka with higher walls, heavy metal doors and bars and put its captives there.

They have been there, and in other makeshift lockups in the area, ever since because nobody knows what to do with them.

Many of the approximately 3,500 men at the prison were fighters and some have lingering injuries. Reflecting the international draw of the Islamic State, they hail from all over the world, and most of their countries have refused to take them back. A separate part of the compound holds about 700 boys, who are the children of suspected members of ISIS and were also taken captive as the caliphate collapsed.

The Kurdish-led officials who govern the area have said it is not their job to put the men on trial, and since no one else will either, the prisoners have been stuck in limbo — that is until Islamic State fighters attacked the compound on Thursday to try to break them out. They used suicide bombers to blow open the gates and seized control of about a quarter of the facility.

Terrorism experts and U.S. officials have warned of the dangers of keeping so many former ISIS fighters in an unstable region under the control of an ad hoc administration that lacks the resources to keep the place secure.

This week’s fighting only amplified those concerns.

As of Tuesday, at least 30 S.D.F. fighters had been killed in battles in and around the prison along with about 200 ISIS attackers and detainees, said Farhad Shami, an S.D.F. spokesman.

It is unclear how many prisoners have managed to escape. And S.D.F. officials have said the ISIS fighters holed up in part of the prison are using the boys as human shields.

During a visit to the prison in 2019, reporters for The New York Times saw hundreds of men, many of them emaciated and injured, dressed in orange jumpsuits and crammed into crowded cells. Those interviewed either denied they had been with the Islamic State or claimed to have had nonviolent jobs as teachers or cooks.

Human rights organizations have criticized Western governments for not repatriating their citizens from northeastern Syria, comparing their indefinite detention without trial to the plight of men held in the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In addition to the men held in prisons, tens of thousands of others, mostly women and children, who were detained as the caliphate collapsed, are held in camps nearby that aid groups have warned are unsanitary and serve as jihadist recruitment centers.

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ISIS Poses a Growing Threat to New Taliban Government in Afghanistan

JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Aref Mohammad’s war against the Islamic State ended earlier this fall when his unit of Taliban fighters was ambushed by the terrorist group in eastern Afghanistan. A bullet shattered his femur, leaving him disabled and barely able to walk, never mind fight.

But for the Taliban movement he served under, now the government of Afghanistan, the war against the Islamic State was just beginning.

“If we knew where they were from, we would pursue them and destroy them,” Mr. Mohammed, 19, said from his hospital bed in Jalalabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province where the Islamic State has maintained a presence since 2015.

In the two months since the Taliban took control of the country, the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan — known as Islamic State Khorasan or ISIS-K — has stepped up attacks across the country, straining the new and untested government and raising alarm bells in the West about the potential resurgence of a group that could eventually pose an international threat.

Islamic State fighters carried out a coordinated attack with gunmen and at least one suicide bomber on an important military hospital in the capital, killing at least 25 people.

This has placed the Taliban in a precarious position: After spending 20 years fighting as an insurgency, the group finds itself wrestling with providing security and delivering on its hallmark commitment of law and order. This has proved especially challenging for the Taliban as they try to defend themselves and civilians in crowded cities against almost daily attacks with an army that was trained for rural guerrilla warfare.

once working together with the Americans and the former government to contain the terrorist group in the east — is on the diplomatic stage.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

In 2015, the Islamic State in Khorasan was officially established in Afghanistan’s east by former members of the Pakistani Taliban. The group’s ideology took hold partly because many villages there are inhabited by Salafi Muslims, the same branch of Sunni Islam as the Islamic State. A minority among the Taliban, who mostly follow the Hanafi school, Salafi fighters were eager to join the new terrorist group.

The draw of young fighters to the Islamic State is especially pronounced in Jalalabad, where Salafi mosques have sprung up in growing numbers in recent years, providing ample recruiting grounds for the terrorist group.

The Taliban have made a show of openness to the Salafists, accepting a pledge of allegiance from some Salafi clerics earlier this month. But there is still widespread unease within their community, especially in Jalalabad.

At one Salafi religious school in the city, the Taliban cracked down on the ideology by forcing the school’s founder to flee. They have allowed boys to continue their Quranic studies but have banned Salafist works from the curriculum.

For Faraidoon Momand, a former member of the Afghan government and a local power broker in Jalalabad, the worsening economic situation in the country is also driving the Islamic State’s recruitment.

“In every society if the economy is bad, people will do what they have to do to get by,” Mr. Momand said.

As dusk fell over Jalalabad on a recent day in October, a unit of Taliban fighters belonging to the intelligence agency rode through the streets in a modified Toyota pickup, a machine gun mounted in its bed, as the streets filled with commuters and evening shoppers.

The Talibs pulled up at key intersections and checkpoints, jumping out and assisting with the screening of cars and the ubiquitous yellow three-wheeled rickshaws that jostle and honk as they throng streets. They poked their heads in, shining flashlights inside, questioning passengers, and waved them on.

“We have a court for every criminal,” said Abdullah Ghorzang, a Taliban commander. “But there is no court for ISIS-K. They will be killed wherever they are arrested.”

Victor J. Blue reported from Jalalabad, Afghanistan; Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Doha, Qatar, and Christina Goldbaum from Kabul. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington; Safiullah Padshah from Jalalabad; and Sami Sahak from Los Angeles.

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Japan’s Communists Are Hardly Radical, but Make a Handy Election Target

TOKYO — The Japan Communist Party is the oldest political party in the country. It’s the largest nonruling Communist party in the world. It’s harshly critical of China. And the Japanese authorities list it, along with ISIS and North Korea, as a threat to national security.

To many in Japan, that comparison seems exaggerated. The party, which long ago abandoned Marx and Lenin and never really had time for Stalin or Mao, is about as radical as a beige cardigan: antiwar, pro-democracy, pro-economic equality.

But that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a primary target of Japan’s dominant political force, the Liberal Democratic Party, ahead of parliamentary elections on Sunday that will help set the country’s path out of the pandemic.

Though clocking in at only 3 percent support in the polls, the Communists have become a handy boogeyman after teaming up with Japan’s leading opposition parties for the first time in an effort to dethrone the L.D.P. The Communists agreed to withdraw their candidates from several districts to avoid splitting the liberal vote.

C.I.A. — carried out heavy-handed crackdowns on the group, which briefly flirted with political violence and became a rallying point for anti-American student protests.

Despite its name, the J.C.P. has largely abandoned its roots in favor of its own homegrown ideology. It broke with the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s and has recently become one of Beijing’s most vocal Japanese critics, denouncing its neighbor for following the path of “hegemony” and violating human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. When the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, the J.C.P. was the only major Japanese party not to send congratulations.

Still, Japan’s National Police Agency has continued to treat the group as a menace. In its annual report on threats to the nation, it lumps the J.C.P. in with the Islamic State, North Korea and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult that killed 13 and injured thousands during a 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

The Japan Communists, the police note, are rapidly aging, losing their financial resources — mostly generated by subscriptions to their newspaper, Akahata, or Red Flag — and are having difficulty attracting new members.

The agency is not clear about what actual threat the group poses. It does note that the Communists were planning to join other opposition parties to challenge the L.D.P., and that they had “added ‘gender equality’ and ‘a nuclear-power-free Japan’” to their platform. (The J.C.P. runs more female candidates than nearly any other Japanese party.)

Both of those initiatives are opposed to some extent by the Liberal Democrats — who, for example, have rejected legislation to allow women to keep their last names after marriage — even though they are popular with the general public.

But those are not among the top issues for voters in the coming election. Their priorities are clear: keeping the coronavirus in check and putting the pandemic-ravaged economy back on track. Neither of these are necessarily winning issues for the L.D.P., which, though unlikely to lose, faces a strong risk of emerging from the election seriously weakened.

Japan is reporting just a few hundred Covid-19 cases each day, and vaccination numbers have surpassed those of most other countries, despite a slow start. Nevertheless, there is a sense that the governing party mismanaged the crisis, fumbling the national vaccine rollout and delaying the country’s recovery. Stories of coronavirus patients dying at home despite ample supplies of hospital beds have further hardened public opinion.

Current economic policies, which have failed to lift the country out of stagnation, are also unpopular — so much so that Fumio Kishida, who became prime minister this month after winning an L.D.P. leadership election, ran against them. Mr. Kishida promised that he would confront growing inequality through a (very socialist-sounding) program of wealth redistribution.

He has since walked back those promises and looks set to continue his predecessors’ policies largely unchanged.

The threat that the Japan Communist Party poses to the L.D.P. may come not from its size — the Communists have never gained more than 13 percent of the vote in a lower house election — but from its members’ dedication. The J.C.P., which has a highly organized base, could play a big role in drawing votes to the opposition, said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University.

“It’s an organization that has the power to gather ballots” he said.

In focusing attention on the Japan Communists, the L.D.P. and its governing partner, Komeito, are betting that voters’ distaste for big “C” communism and fear of a rising China will drive them away from the opposition coalition, said Taku Sugawara, an independent political scientist.

“Until recently, as far as the L.D.P. was concerned, the Communists were just a group that got in the way of the other opposition parties,” he said. “But now that they’re clearly a threat, they’ve become a prominent target of criticism.”

Although there is widespread consensus in Japan that Beijing’s growing power poses a threat to regional stability, the L.D.P. and J.C.P. are split over how to deal with it.

The Liberal Democrats have called for doubling military spending, increasing defense cooperation with the United States, and changing Japan’s pacifist constitution to give it, among other things, the ability to carry out first strikes against adversaries that threaten national security.

The Japan Communists, however, prefer a diplomatic approach and are strongly opposed to the substantial American military presence in Japan, a position that makes it an outlier among Japanese political parties.

During a recent rally in front of the bustling Shinjuku station in central Tokyo, candidates for Komeito warned a small group of potential voters that the differing views of the J.C.P. and its political partners on national defense would make it impossible for them to govern competently.

(The hawkish L.D.P. and its dovish coalition partner have themselves long been at odds over whether to increase military spending or alter Japan’s constitution to remove its prohibition against waging war. And Komeito is notorious for its reluctance to criticize Beijing.)

The Japan Communists have said that their differences with other opposition parties would have no bearing on a new government. The Communists say they won’t seek any role if the opposition topples the L.D.P.

But it’s hard to say what would actually happen if the opposition somehow won power, Mr. Iwai, the political science professor, said.

None of the coalition members “actually think they’re going to win,” he said. So when it comes to discussions of what’s next, “No one’s thought that far.”

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Long Arm of Russian Law Reaches Obscure Siberian Church

ABODE OF DAWN, Russia — High on a hilltop bathed in the autumnal colors of pine, birch and larch trees, Aleksei Demidov paused for a few minutes of quiet prayer. He was directing his thoughts to his religious teacher, known as Vissarion, hoping he might feel his energy.

As he prayed, a cluster of small bells rang out from a spindly wooden gazebo. They belonged to the Church of the Last Testament, founded in 1991 by Vissarion. Except then his name was Sergei Torop, and he was just a former police officer and an amateur artist.

These days, Mr. Demidov and thousands of other church members consider Vissarion a living god. The Russian state, however, considers him a criminal.

dramatic operation led by federal security services. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country’s top federal prosecutorial authority, accused them of “creating a religious group whose activities may impose violence on citizens,” allegations they deny.

A year later, the three men are still being held without criminal indictment in a prison in the industrial city of Novosibirsk, 1,000 miles from their church community. No trial has been scheduled.

Since taking power at the turn of the century, President Vladimir V. Putin has gone to great lengths to silence critics and prevent any person or group from gaining too much influence. He has forced out and locked up oligarchs, muted the news media and tried to defang political opposition — like Aleksei A. Navalny.

outlawed in 2017 and declared an “extremist” organization, on par with Islamic State militants.

Though there are accusations of extortion and mistreatment of members of the Church of the Last Testament, scholars and criminal justice experts say the arrest of Mr. Torop underscores the government’s intolerance of anything that veers from the mainstream — even a small, marginal group living in the middle of the forest, led by a former police officer claiming to be God.

“There is an idea that there is a defined spiritual essence of Russian culture, meaning conservative values and so on, that is in danger,” said Alexander Panchenko, the head of the Center for Anthropology of Religion at the European University at St. Petersburg, who has been asked to serve as an expert witness in an administrative procedure that could strip the church of its legal status as a church, an act that he said was based on “false accusations.”

“Somehow the new religious movements are now dangerous as well,” Mr. Panchenko said.

told Russian state-owned media that while there was no requirement to donate money, it was encouraged.

She said that some food items were banned and that seeking medical care was difficult. The church drew notice in 2000 when two children died because the community is so remote that they could not get medical help in time. But Ms. Melnikova also said that conditions had softened since the early days.

The accusations come from a vague Soviet-era law used to punish nonregistered groups like Baptists, evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mr. Lunkin said. The prosecutors’ office did not respond to messages seeking information about the status of the case.

In interviews last month with more than two dozen church members, none said that they had been mistreated or strained financially, and all that they could come and go freely for work or school. They said the church did not impose a financial burden on them. When the authorities searched Mr. Torop’s home, they found only 700 rubles (about $10).

Mr. Torop and his church have not been politically active or spoken out against the government. Instead, followers believe their very independence from normal Russian life is what made their church a target. “We’ve created a self-sustaining society, and our freedom is dangerous for the system,” said Aleksandr A. Komogortsev, 46, a disciple who was a police officer in Moscow for 11 years before moving to one of the biggest villages three years ago.

“We have shown how it is possible to live outside the system,” he said, gushing over a breakfast of salad and potato dumplings about how fulfilling it was to work with his hands.

Tanya Denisova, 68, a follower since 1999, said the church was focused on God’s judgment, not politics. She moved to the village in 2001, after divorcing her husband, who did not want to join the church.

“We came here to get away from politics,” she said.

Like the other faithful, Ms. Denisova eats a vegetarian diet, mostly of food grown in her large garden. Pictures of Vissarion, referred to as “the teacher,” and reproductions of his paintings hang in many rooms of her house.

Each village where followers live, like Ms. Denisova’s Petropavlovka, functions as a “united family,” with the household heads meeting each morning after a brief prayer service to discuss urgent communal work to be done for the day, and with weekly evening sessions where members of the community can solve disputes, request assistance or offer help.

At one recent meeting, members approved two new weddings after ensuring the betrothed couples were ready for marriage.

For many of the believers, their leader’s arrest, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, is a sign that Judgment Day approaches.

Others said they felt his arrest was the fulfillment of a prophecy, comparing their teacher’s plight with that of Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.

Stanislav M. Kazakov, the head of a small private school in the village of Cheremshanka, said the arrest had made the teacher more famous in Russia and abroad, which he hoped would draw more adherents.

Mr. Kazakov said his school, like other community institutions, had been subjected to repeated inspections and fines since 2019, with at least 100 students as young as 8 questioned by the police. He said the arrest and intimidation by the police had made the community stronger.

“They thought we would fall apart without him,” he said. “But in the past year, we have returned to the kind of community that holds each other together.”

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