KAZAN, Russia -- The government-backed top Islamic leader in Russia's mainly Muslim republic of Tatarstan has been injured and his former deputy killed in two separate attacks.
Officials of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate said mufti Ildus Faizov sustained injuries when unknown individuals blew up his car on July 18 in the Tatar capital Kazan. Faizov, 49, has been hospitalized.
Officials said that in a second incident, the mufti's former deputy, Valilulla Yakupov, was shot dead near his home in Kazan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks.
The Russian Investigative Committee and Tatar officials said probes were under way to apprehend the attackers.
Both men were known for their opposition to extremism and radical Islamists who support the strict Salafist version of Islam.
Russia’s Council of Muftis in Moscow condemned the attacks, describing them as terrorist acts.
Start Of Ramadan
The council’s Damir Gizatullin stated that “the saddest is the fact that these barbaric actions were conducted on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan.”
Muslims of the world are preparing to start the month of Ramadan on July 20.
Gizatullin added that the attacks “will fail to blow up our society, as the majority of Muslims in Russia are Sunni Muslims who support moderate Islam.”
In Pictures: Aftermath Of The Bomb Attack
The mufti's former deputy, Yakupov, also 49, was a historian who founded Russia’s first Islamic publishing house and authored a number of theological and historical research works and articles.
He was often a guest at various round tables and televised discussions devoted to Islam and its traditional roots in Tatarstan and some other mainly Muslim regions of the Russian Federation.
When expressing his views regarding religious extremism, Yakupov often said that 70 years of atheism in the Soviet Union had led to complete ignorance among youth in Tatarstan about the traditional Sunni Islam that has deep roots in the region.
Yakupov said this ignorance had led some young Tatars to follow Islamic sects that espouse violence and intolerance after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
With additional reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax