Sufi scholar, 5 others killed in Dagestan suicide bomb attack
Sufi scholar, 5 others killed in Dagestan suicide bomb attack
The attack was reported just as President Vladimir Putin began delivering a keynote address devoted to an assassination attempt last month against another top moderate cleric in a different republic that killed his former deputy.
The rapid succession of assassination is likely to set off alarms in the Kremlin amid signs that its strategy of winning over the North Caucasus by backing less radical forces is coming under direct militant attack.
Dagestan’s interior ministry said Tuesday’s attack claimed the life of one of the Caspian Sea region’s most respected religious leaders who had worked for most of his life against the rise of radical Islam.
Its official statement said a woman “posing as a pilgrim” walked into the home of Sheikh Said Afandi and detonated a suicide belt.
The federal Investigative Committee said Afandi was one of seven people instantly killed by the bomber.
“The woman’s identity is now being established,” the Investigative Committee said in its own statement.
The scholar is a Dagestani native who was born in 1937 and had studied Islam in the Soviet era before establishing warm relations with the current Russian authorities.
The latest high-profile slaying occurred just weeks after militants claimed a car bombing and shooting in the main Muslim region of Tatarstan — held up as an example of religious tolerance — that targeted its own religious leaders.
The Tatarstan clerics and Afandi were all Sufis who promoted a form of cooperation with the authorities, having strongly backed Putin before.
The first attack prompted the Russian strongman to call an emergency security meeting just two months into his new term as president and then deliver a series of big speeches preaching inter-ethnic peace.
Putin flew to Tatarstan on Tuesday to deliver some more prepared remarks on the dangers of separatist sentiment and the strength of a unified Russia.
But his message aired on national television just as the first reports of the Dagestan blast filtered in through Russian news agencies.
Putin never referred to Dagestan directly while vowing that “you cannot defeat the united, multi-ethnic and powerful Russian people.”
“We have truth and justice on our side — and millions of people,” he said in the emotional appeal.
“And these are people who are not afraid, who cannot be frightened, and who know the value of peace.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
But it came just days after Russia’s most feared Islamist commander — the long-wanted warlord Doku Umarov of the Caucasus Emirate group — appointed two new top deputies in charge of Dagestan.
One was a new field commander directly responsible for orchestrating attacks against both Russian state and security targets as well as those who promote more tolerant Muslim religious views.
Russian authorities, meanwhile, said they suspected that a border guard who killed seven of his fellow servicemen at a Dagestani outpost earlier in the day before being shot dead himself may have had ties to the militant movement.
“According to preliminary information, the border guard who opened fire on his colleagues had been recruited by the bandits,” Interfax quoted a local security source as saying.
The unnamed soldier shot dead two soldiers guarding the barracks of an outpost near the coastal Caspian Sea city of Derbent before entering the building and killing five more people.
Kosovo votes to create national army over Serb objections
- Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted to set up a 5,000-strong national army
- The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops
PRISTINA: Parliament in Kosovo, Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted on Thursday to set up a 5,000-strong national army though its Serb minority said the move was illegal.
Serb deputies, backed by Belgrade which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, have blocked any such move in the past saying creation of a national army required a change to the constitution.
But three laws promoted by the Kosovo government and passed by a parliamentary vote on Thursday simply upgraded the mandate of the lightly-armed domestic Kosovo Security Force (KSF) to become a national army — something which the government said did not require any changes to the constitution.
The vote was passed with 98 in favor in the 120-seat parliament, though it was boycotted by the legislature’s 11 Serb deputies. A second vote will be required in the next few days.
“The three laws have one task, to protect the territorial integrity of Kosovo, to protect the citizens of all communities in Kosovo,” Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said before the vote.
The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops nearly two decades after the end of the war.
NATO moved into the fledgling state in June 1999 following weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The United States and most of the European Union member states recognize Kosovo. But objections by permanent Security Council members Russia and China which back Serbia in not accepting Kosovo’s statehood prevent it from being a member of the United Nations.
The laws passed said the new army would have 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists. The present KSF security force is a lightly armed, 2,500-strong force trained by NATO and tasked with crisis response, civil protection and ordinance disposal.
NATO says it has no plans to leave the territory just now, but it suggested that any change to the status of the KSF might lead to a reduction in its forces there.
“Any change in the structure, mandate and mission of the Kosovo Security Forces is for the Kosovo authorities to decide,” a NATO official told Reuters in an emailed answer.
“NATO supports the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate. Should this mandate evolve, the North Atlantic Council will have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement in Kosovo. We cannot predict decisions by the North Atlantic Council.”