Top Muslim cleric shot dead in volatile Caucasus: officials

15th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The top Muslim cleric in Russia's volatile region of Kabardino-Balkaria was shot dead on Wednesday, with the Kremlin saying militants killed him for resisting religious extremism, officials said.

Anas Pshikhachev, the region's top mufti, was attacked by two unidentified assailants just outside his home in the town of Nalchik, a spokeswoman for the regional investigators told AFP

He received several gunshot wounds and died of his injuries on the spot, she said.

Kabardino-Balkaria, which is famed for its ski resorts, is located near the volatile regions of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, where the authorities are battling a Muslim insurgency and attacks on government officials are a near-daily occurrence.

The spokeswoman said Pshikhachev had probably become the victim of extremists as he was one of the most respected Muslim figures in the North Caucasus and had spoken out against religious extremism.

President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his condolences to the mufti's family and Muslims in the region, his spokeswoman told AFP.

"He was an outstanding religious figure who enjoyed unquestioning authority and stood openly against extremism," Natalia Timakova quoted Medvedev as saying.

"It is clear that it is a villainous murder which was committed because of his active stance," Medvedev said, adding that those behind Pshikhachev's assassination would be punished.

The Kremlin calls the Muslim insurgency its biggest domestic headache. In November, Medvedev said the situation in the North Caucasus remained "very difficult" and "has practically not improved" in recent months.

© 2010 AFP

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