By Elizabeth Kendal
On 19 July, the day before the start of Ramadan, two senior Muslim clerics known for their efforts to halt the spread of Salafi Islam in Russia's Tatarstan province, became victims of targeted terror attacks.
Tatarstan's chief mufti, Ildus Faizov (49), only narrowly escaped death. He had unbuckled his seatbelt and was exiting his Toyota Land Cruiser to make a phone call in the capital, Kazan, when three massive bombs attached to his vehicle exploded. Faizov was thrown clear while the car, which was ripped to shreds, was engulfed in flames. The bombing came just half an hour after Faizov's deputy, Valiulla Yakupov (48), was assassinated. Yakupov, who was shot six times on the porch of his apartment block, managed to get to his car where his driver was waiting for him, but died from chest wounds on the way to the hospital. Faizov was hospitalised with injuries mostly to his legs. He was released on 24 July in a stable condition to return to his home, which is now under police guard.
See: Muslim leaders targeted in twin attacks in Russia's Tatarstan (includes video)
Russia Today, 19 July 2012
Since becoming Tatarstan's chief mufti in 2011, Faizov has been cracking down on radical Islamists, dismissing ultraconservative preachers and banning textbooks from Saudi Arabia. He maintains that the main threat comes from followers of Salafism and Wahhabism which are increasingly being preached in some of the mosques in Tatarstan. "The Salafis and Wahhabis constitute a very great danger," he told AFP last year. "There are no moderates among them. They all finish one day by taking up arms."
As for Yakupov, the Kazan Week website recently listed Yakupov as Tatarstan's second most influential Muslim, calling him the "strategist behind Faizov's policy of rooting out religious extremism."
Muslim-majority Tatarstan is home to some exquisite ancient mosques and boasts the world's largest Qur'an. As Daisy Sindelar notes in the Turkish Weekly (20 July), it has long been "a relatively peaceful, prosperous republic with a reputation for cultural diversity and religious tolerance".
See: Tatarstan Attacks Spark Fears That Islamist Threat Is Spreading
By Daisy Sindelar, Friday 20 July 2012
"No one has claimed responsibility for the dual assaults," writes Sindelar, "the first terrorist-style attacks in the republic. . . But the clerics' pro-Kremlin, anti-Wahhabi stance has stirred speculation that they may have been targeted by hard-line Islamists looking to break Moscow's grip on Russia's second-largest religion.
"In a statement, Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee said it was exploring a number of motives behind the attacks, including the work of the Tatarstan Mufti's Office 'to counter the spread of radical religious ideas across the republic's territory'."
Dozens of Muslims have reportedly been questioned and five suspects have been detained in connection with the attacks, which appear to be related to "ideological disagreements" and Faizov's business interests. Faizov has been criticised in local media for allegedly profiting from tours he organised for Muslim pilgrims and for trying to gain control of one of the oldest and largest mosques in Kazan, which receives hefty donations from thousands of believers. (Kuwait Times, 19 July)
Moscow Times reports: "Working together, the Federal Security Service and police arrested the Muslim head of the Vakf parish, 39-year-old Kazan resident Murat Galeyev; 41-year-old Airat Shakirov, a resident of Tatarstan's Vysokogorsky district; Abdunozim Ataboyev, 26, an Uzbek native registered in Kazan; and a 36-year-old Kazan resident whose name was not disclosed.
"The suspected mastermind of the attacks -- the board chairman of the Idel-Hajj company, 57-year-old Rustem Gataullin -- was also detained. A Kazan court is scheduled to decide Monday whether to sanction his arrest. . . Gataullin also has links to radical Wahhabis, Kommersant reported."
Kuwait Times notes that Salafi Islam has been spreading in the oil-rich Volga River province due to an influx of Muslim clerics from Chechnya and other predominantly Muslim provinces of Russia's North Caucasus region. Chechen separatist leader, the Islamist Doku Umarov, reportedly issued a religious decree in 2011 calling on radical Islamists from the Caucasus to move to the Volga River region that includes Tatarstan. According to the Qatar Tribune, Umarov warned that his fighters were on a mission to "free the lands of our brothers" (i.e. to supposedly "liberate" Russian regions with large Muslim populations).
The Qatar Tribune comments: "Around half of Tatarstan’s population is Muslim . . . In Kazan [the capital] few women wear headscarves and a huge mosque stands beside an Orthodox cathedral." (see, Kazan: where Europe meets Asia and The Beauty of Kazan)
Pavel Salin, a political analyst at the Center for Political Assessments in Moscow, down played suggestions that Tatarstan, as a largely peaceful and compliant Russian republic, would be the target of a full-scale Kremlin crackdown. He agreed, however, that the Kazan terror attacks would be a "serious worry" for the Kremlin.