MOSCOW — Attackers have shot and killed a Muslim cleric and two of his family members as they drove to a mosque in Russia's North Caucasus republic of Dagestan. The area is no stranger to attacks as the Kremlin continues to battle an Islamist insurgency there, but a spiraling conflict between radical Islamists and moderate Muslims in the volatile region is adding to the violence.
A spokesperson for Dagestan’s Interior Ministry said unidentified assailants opened fire on Imam Kalimulla Ibragimov’s car as he, his father and brother were headed to a mosque for morning prayers in the Caspian Sea city of Derbent.
The attack was top news on state-run television.
Russia has long been battling an Islamist insurgency in its southern flank. After Vladimir Putin was first elected president a decade ago, the Kremlin crushed a separatist revolt in Chechnya, where Muslims want to create an Islamist state. Since then, an insurgency has simmered throughout the country’s mainly Muslim Caucasus mountains. There are near-daily attacks on police and government officials in the region.
But a growing part of the violence is between between moderate Muslims and radical Islamists. Ibragimov’s followers say he preached Salafism, a radical movement that promotes an ultraconservative brand of Islam. Three other spiritual leaders in the region also have been killed this year, including moderate Islamic leader Sheikh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi.
Experts say the groups are fighting over how Islam should be practiced.
Anti-Terrorism Committee spokesman Nikolai Sintov said trying to keep the restive region safe is important. He said the priority in counter-terrorism is to continue the necessary prevention work with the part of the population that is subjected to terrorism.
Many critics say the violence in the North Caucasus will not abate, however, because the Kremlin is constantly cracking down on dissent there.
Officials continue to investigate the shooting of the cleric.