KAZAN: The Islamic leader of Russia’s main Muslim region of Tatarstan was wounded Thursday and another cleric killed in rare attacks in an oil-rich republic often praised for its religious tolerance.
The Mufti of Tatarstan, Ildus Faizov, was wounded in a car explosion while his former deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, was shot dead in the strikes an hour apart as Muslims prepared to begin observing Ramadan at sundown.
Investigators opened a murder case while the region’s leader linked the attacks in Tatarstain’s main city of Kazan to the clerics’ work to promote moderate Islam.
“Our leaders have followed the policy of traditional Islam. It is clear that there are other movements, and what happened today is a clear challenge,” said the presdient of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, pledging a firm response to radicals.
“Our position should be tougher,” he said in comments released by his office.
Russia’s top Muslim cleric Ravil Gainutdin said that those behind the attacks were seeking to place a bomb under the foundation of “peace and order of the entire Russian Federation.”
“I have to admit that a wave of violence has come to the Volga region too,” he said.
The oil-producing region on the Volga River is touted by authorities as an example of peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians, in contrast to the troubled North Caucasus, where the Kremlin fought two wars against separatists in the past 20 years.
But over the past few years officials have sounded the alarm about extremism spreading to a region where secessionist sentiments ran high following the Soviet breakup.