Islamist claims Russia cleric attacks, warns of more to come
An Islamic militant claimed Saturday a deadly twin attack on two clerics in a Muslim region of Russia that is often held up as an example of religious tolerance, and warned of further violence.
A man who described himself as the chief guerrilla fighter of the central region of Tatarstan said in a video message posted on a website frequently used by Chechen fighters that he personally ordered last month's strikes.
Tatarstan chief cleric Ildus Faizov survived a July 19 car bombing with severe burns while his one-time deputy Valiulla Yakupov died the same day in a hail of bullets moments after stepping outside his front door.
The video posted on the Russian-language KavkazCenter.com website showed a young man who gave his name as Muhammad crouching in the woods with a rifle between his legs and reading from a prepared text.
He described himself as the "emir of the mujahedeen of Tatarstan" but gave no name for his organisation.
"On July 19, 2012, on my orders an operation was conducted against the enemies of Allah -- Ildus Faizov and Valiulla Yakupov," the lightly-bearded man said. All praise to Allah, we believe the operation was a success."
He issued a stark warning to all moderate Muslim leaders of Tatarstan who refuse to practise the strict sharia interpretation of Islamic law adhered to by most rebel fighters in the North Caucasus.
"We will continue to conduct further operations against the enemies of Allah," he said.
"I address all the imams (religious leaders) of Tatarstan. I urge them to return to the fundamentals of sharia and to stop promoting traditional Islam," the man said.
"If any of the imams do not want to or cannot carry out the points established by sharia, they should leave their posts. That way, you will be protected from the mujahedeen."
The claim underscores Kremlin concerns of almost ceaseless North Caucasus violence spilling over after two decades to far more peaceful parts of Russia such as the vibrant oil-producing region of Tatarstan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident a "serious signal" that required tighter security measures and undisclosed "pre-emptive" steps.
The attacks came less than three months after Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term -- extending an era of domination that began when he launched a brutal war in Chechnya while still prime minister in 1999.
Russian investigators said a day after the attacks that they had detained five suspects and that the motive appeared to be the clerics' fight against Muslim radicals.
© 2012 AFP