MOSCOW – Russia’s top Muslim scholar called Wednesday, August 29, for calm following a deadly bombing that killed a moderate imam in the restive Caucasus region of Dagestan, an attack seen as aiming to spark inter-Muslim strife.
"I call on you to adhere to a fraternal Muslim sense of responsibility before the danger of sectarian strife and the splintering of the Muslim religious community," Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of the umbrella Russian Council of Muftis, said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Imam Said Atsayev, 79, was killed Tuesday when a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Dagestan.
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Police said the bomber had posed as a pilgrim to the imam’s home and detonated an explosive belt packed with nails and ball bearings, killing Atsayev, herself and six others.
The slain imam, who is also known as Said Afandi al-Chirkavi, was widely viewed as one of Dagestan's most revered religious teachers whose funeral drew vast crowds only hours after the killing.
The Interfax news agency estimated that up 150,000 people attended the imam’s funeral.
A security source told Reuters that the woman, aged either 29 or 30, was born with an ethnic Russian family and reverted to Islam and was married to a militant.
Two previous husbands, also militants, had been killed, the source added.
Gaynutdin warned that the attack threatened to destroy "the beginnings of inter-Muslim dialogue" along Russia's impoverished and violence-plagued southern rim.
The imam’s death increased tension in Dagestan in particular, prompting an official day of mourning locally, though attacks occur almost daily.
Dagestan also saw a bloody incident on Tuesday, in which a border guard killed seven fellow soldiers at a frontier post before being shot dead.
Some Russian media suggested the killer may have been recruited by militants, but officials said the matter was still under investigation.
Russian lawmakers accused “foreign hands” of seeking to foment inter-Muslim violence in the country.
"Russia is coming under attack," Yaroslav Nilov, the head of the lower house of parliament’s religious affairs committee, told the Interfax news agency.
“There is an ongoing fight against Russia. [The killing of Sheikh Said Afandi] it is one of the attempts to stir up a conflict between religions.”
The killing came days after masked gunmen opened fire in a mosque in Dagestan, killing one person and injuring several others.
Seven police were also killed in a suicide bombing this month in Ingushetia, another province in the turbulent North Caucasus.
Last month, the mufti of Russia’s largely-Muslim region of Tatarstan was injured and his deputy was killed in a rare attack on Muslim leaders in the oil-rich republic.
In April, a Russian Muslim activist was found dead with his throat slashed in Moscow.
Nilov argued that foreign special services and “world decision-making centers” were financing and using radicals to fuel tension in Russia.
“Certain individuals who promote radical Islam get sufficient financing for undermining activities.”
Tuesday’s attack occurred the same time Russian Premier Vladimir Putin delivered a call for unity during a visit to Tatarstan.
"We will not allow anyone to tear our country apart by exploiting ethnic and religious differences," Putin said, appealing for unity and calling Russia "our common home".
"Terrorists, bandits, whatever ideological slogans they use ... want to achieve only one thing: to sow hatred and fear," Putin said.
"They stop at nothing - they kill people of the same faith and religious leaders, bring evil and spill blood during religious holidays.”
Putin called for religious tolerance, describing it as "one of the foundations of Russian statehood for centuries".
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.
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