Dudarov, 34, was the 10th Muslim cleric to meet a violent death in Russia's North Caucasus this year. Eight were killed in Daghestan, including Sufi sheikh Said-Afandi Chirkeisky. The deputy mufti of Stavropol Krai, Kurman Ismailov, was killed by a car bomb in Pyatigorsk in February.
In all those cases, investigators and public opinion alike identified as the most likely perpetrators the North Caucasus insurgency, which for years has systematically targeted pro-Moscow Muslim clerics it considers apostates. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and the Russian Orthodox Church have both assumed that the killing of Dudarov fits into that pattern.
But the head of the North Ossetian division of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Oleg Yatskov, has cautioned against leaping to that conclusion. And several analysts have suggested alternative hypotheses.
Dudarov had studied theology in Saudi Arabia and returned to North Ossetia in 2007, where he was named deputy mufti. He also served as imam of the mosque in Vladikavkaz and acting imam of the one in Beslan. He was said to be the most erudite member of the muftiate and the only one with a higher degree in theology. According to North Ossetian mufti Khadzhi-Murat Gatsalov, Dudarov had also studied at the Russian presidential Academy of State Service.
Those who knew Dudarov personally characterized him as a wholly likeable and thoroughly decent human being. They say he was not politically active and had never criticized the republic's leadership. His sermons focused exclusively on issues of morality (such as alcoholism and drug addiction) and how to bring up one's children as good Muslims (he had four daughters).
In short, it seems unlikely that Dudarov had incurred the displeasure of the insurgency. Indeed, it is more than questionable whether an insurgency wing still exists in North Ossetia. The group calling itself Kataib al-Khoul that emerged in 2006 and claimed responsibility for the killing two years later of a senior North Ossetian Interior Ministry official in Vladikavkaz has shown no signs of life since then.
North Ossetia consistently ranks as the region of the North Caucasus least affected by the insurgency. Just four people were killed in insurgency-related violence last year, and the same number this year. The most high-profile attack in North Ossetia in recent years, the car bombing in a Vladikavkaz market in September 2010, was perpetrated by the Ingushetia insurgency wing.
In addition, the modus operandi chosen by Dudarov's killer(s) was not one of those preferred by the insurgency. Most insurgency killings of clergymen are either by car bombs or face-to-face shootings at close range by fighters who knock at the gates of their intended victim's home and open fire when he emerges to greet them.
Will The Killer Be Found?
On the other hand, Dudarov was also a member of the North Ossetian Interior Ministry's Public Council, which may have earned him enemies among the organized crime community.
Writing on the website Kavpolit.com, however, Ossetian journalist Magomed Tuayev places the killing of Dudarov, whom he knew personally, in the context of ongoing reprisals in recent years against North Ossetia's Muslim minority. Of the republic's total population of 712,900, an estimated 25-27 percent are Muslims. Most Ossetians profess a syncretic mix of Orthodox Christianity and pagan ritual engagingly described by Sebastian Smith in his stellar "Allah's Mountains."
Republic head Taymuraz Mamsurov, 58, is from a Muslim family, but he admitted in an interview two years ago that he has never set foot in a mosque.
Gatsalov's predecessor, Ali Yevteyev, was forced to resign in May 2010 after divulging that as a student he had known Musa Mukozhev and Anzor Astemirov, who later played leading roles in the Islamic insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria, when all three were students of theology.
The killing a year later, by a man branded a radical Muslim, of a venerated Ossetian poet led to the arrest of 18 members of the congregation of the Vladikavkaz mosque on charges of abetting the killer. They were subsequently jailed on charges of illegal possession of weapons and drugs.
Early this year, the North Ossetian prosecutor's office publicly accused mufti Gatsalov of not doing enough to counter the spread of radical Islam, an accusation Gatsalov dismissed as misplaced. Two Muslims, one a factory director from Daghestan described as a pillar of the Muslim congregation in Malgobek, have been shot dead in North Ossetia this year.
The latent animosity between Christians and Muslims reportedly even became a factor in the October elections to the republican parliament, with the dominant United Russia party pressuring local Christians not to vote for the rival Patriots of Russia party on the grounds that the head of its local branch, Arsen Fadzayev, is a Muslim.
Tuayev thinks it possible that Dudarov was killed by a maverick faction within the federal security forces with a vested interest in maintaining and promoting instability in the North Caucasus. "Izvestia" journalist Orkhan Dzhemal said he doubted the insurgency was responsible for shooting Dudarov, as did former mufti Yevteyev. In a tribute to his former deputy, Yevteyev alleged that Islam has been unofficially declared "beyond the law" in North Ossetia. He predicted that Dudarov's killers will never be found and brought to trial.