By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s most senior Islamic cleric warned on Wednesday that civil war could break out in the southern region of Dagestan after a moderate Muslim cleric was killed in a suicide bombing that has heightened religious tensions.
An ethnic Russian, who was both wife and widow of Islamist militants, was named as the bomber who on Tuesday killed Said Atsayev, 74, a prominent Sufi sheikh in the mainly Muslim region who had spoken out against violent Islam.
The murder followed the killing of a moderate Islamic cleric last month in Tatarstan, also a mainly Muslim region, and was carried out as President Vladimir Putin made a rousing call for unity and tolerance to ensure Russia does not fall apart.
“A lot of strength, wisdom and fear of God are needed from the Dagestani people to maintain the situation within the legal framework, avert a bloody civil war and not allow quarrels to split society,” Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of Russia’s mufti council, said in a statement.
Police said Aminat Kurbanova had posed as a pilgrim to enter Atsayev’s home and detonated an explosive belt packed with nails and ball bearings, killing the cleric, herself and six others, including an 11-year-old boy visiting with his parents.
A security source said the woman, aged either 29 or 30, was born with the ethnic Russian family name Saprykina but converted to Islam and was married to an Islamist militant. Two previous husbands, also militants, had been killed, the source added.
Suicide missions by wives of fallen fighters, dubbed “Black Widows”, have been a feature of guerrilla groups from Chechnya and neighboring Muslim regions in the past decade.
She carried out the attack as Putin was visiting Tatarstan, far to the north in central Russia, to make an award to the chief mufti who was wounded in an attack there last month – the same day as his deputy was killed in a separate incident.