A Muslim leader of the Russian Republic of Dagestan has been assassinated in his home, according to law enforcement sources. Sheikh Said Afandi died after a suicide bomber apparently set off an explosive device in his house.
According to police officers on the ground, at least six other people died in the blast, including the female suicide bomber. The house has been surrounded, and police are working at the scene. The device, according to sources close to the investigation, was not very powerful, so the officers have already managed to identify the attacker. According to preliminary data the attacker was Aminat Saprykin, a local resident of Makhachkala and the wife of a militant trained as a suicide bomber, sources told Interfax.
The Republic's President Magomedsalam Magomedov, has announced August 29th will be a day of mourning.
"After suffering multiple injuries, Sheikh Said Afandi died on the spot. Another 5 people, including a child, were also killed. Many were injured. This horrible tragedy has shaken Dagestan, and caused pain and outrage among our people".
74-year-old Said Afandi, a well-known Sufi cleric, was considered one of the Republic's top spiritual leaders. His father died when Afandi was just seven years old. Halfway through highschol, he dropped out to become a shepherd and financially support his family. He served in the Soviet Army and worked as a firefighter before coming to religion at the age of 32.
In his last years, Afandi mostly wrote books, many of which were translated into Russian and English. He was also fond of poetry, and was a keen poet himself.
Tens of thousands of people came to pay their respects to Afandi as he was buried before sunset on August 28.
Watch the video of the ceremony (video courtesy YouTube user riadagestan)
Witnesses say as many as 150,000 men came to express their condolences to the family. Women are traditionally not involved in funerals in the republic, but paid their condolences to the female part of the sheikh’s family.
Security in Makhachkala, the republic's capital, was ramped up following the cleric’s assassination, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova reports. Riot police were deployed in several parts of the city, particularly around the Juma Mosque and nearby alleys.
August 29 was officially announced a day of mourning in the republic.
Attacks against spiritual leaders in Russia have been on the rise recently. Less than two months ago, the mufti of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan was seriously injured in a car bomb, and another cleric was gunned down outside his apartment in the republic's capital, Kazan.
The news of Afandi's murder came as Russian President Vladimir Putin called for religious tolerance during a visit to the Republic of Tatarstan.
"Religious tolerance has been one of the foundations of Russian statehood for centuries," Putin said before granting a state award to Tatarstan's chief mufti, who survived a car bombing in July on the same day as one of his deputies was shot dead.
"Those who want to destroy this statehood are taking aim at this (tolerance)," Putin said. "But the criminals will never achieve their dirty goals. They have no future. They will not succeed – not here in Tatarstan and the Volga region, not in the North Caucasus, not in any region of our big country."
Said Afandi is not the first prominent Muslim cleric to be assassinated in Dagestan in the past year. Just months ago, a local immam was killed and the mosque set on fire in a small village in the republic. In March, the imam of a mosque in Buynaksk, a city in Dagestan, was assassinated by a remote-controlled explosive device. Sirajudin Israfilov, the imam of a Sufi mosque in the town of Derbent, was shot dead at his home in October.