Attacks on clerics rock Tatarstan

THE senior Islamic cleric in the Russian region of Tatarstan was wounded in a bomb attack and his deputy shot dead in a separate incident yesterday.

President Vladimir Putin condemned the attacks, which were carried out hours before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Law enforcement bodies are doing everything to find, expose and punish the criminals,” Mr Putin said.

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Three powerful blasts destroyed mufti Ildis Faizov’s car, but he managed to escape after the first rocked the vehicle. Around the same time his deputy Valiulla Yakupov was shot dead outside his home.

“I felt a first weak explosion in the front part of the car and immediately crawled out of the automobile,” Mr Faizov told state television from his hospital bed.

The motive for the attacks remain unknown and no suspects have been named, but their co-ordinated nature suggests a link to terrorist activity common in Muslim regions of Russia’s North Caucasus.

Militants fighting to carve an Islamic state from the North Caucasus along Russia’s southern flank sometimes target mainstream Muslim leaders backed by the authorities.

Leaders of the insurgency in the North Caucasus have issued appeals to Muslims in other regions of the predominantly Orthodox Christian country, where Muslims are a minority of about 15 per cent of the population, to join their fight.

But oil-producing Tatarstan, which enjoys a higher degree of autonomy from Moscow than other regions and is home to a majority ethnic Tatar population, is relatively peaceful.