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A bomb blast killed leading Islamic scholar in Dagestan

By Ibrahim Abdulaev : IslamDag.info | 29 Aug 2012

MAKHACHKALA. A woman suicide bomber killed an influential Islamic cleric and six of his followers, including an 11-year-old boy and a woman, in Dagestan on Tuesday.

Said Atsayev, a renowned Sufi Muslim spiritual leader popularly known as Shaykh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi, was killed in an attack when the woman entered his home disguised as his follower and detonated an explosive belt around her waist, Russian media quoted police as saying. The blast happened in the village of Chirkey in the southern republic, which borders Chechnya.

Witnesses say as many as 150,000 of mourners converged on a cemetery for the burial of Said Afandi, and thousands more flocked to his grave the following day. President of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov officially announced August 29 a day of mourning in the republic. All state flags of Russian Federation and the Republic of Dagestan were lowered, and all entertainment programs were cancelled.

Russian police on Wednesday identified the female suicide bomber as Aminat Kurbanova, a 30-year-old resident of Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala. The Interfax news agency claimed she was an ethnic Russian woman (Saprykina) who had converted to Islam after marrying an Islamist militant.

74-year-old Said Afandi, was considered one of the Russia's top spiritual leaders whose tens of thousands of followers include influential officials, clerics and businessmen. His father died when Afandi was just seven years old. After high school he worked as shepherd to 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, Said 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. He never asked people to join tariqa or follow Sufism, but his followers are found all over Russia and beyond and condolences are received from all over the world.

"I express my deepest condolences to the family of Shaykh Said Afandi and all the families of the victims," Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote in a telegram. "His unwavering reputation with hundreds of thousands of believers was undeniable. This vile and cynical attack caused outrage and indignation of all Russian citizens regardless of their religion."

In one of his interviews he said that it is not allowed to call people to Sufism. “It’s the law of Sufis, we cannot invite people, and count them”, he said. “But if a person comes with his own initiative, then we cannot decline, whoever comes, Russian, Jew or Avar, I must accept him and teach him”.

In another interview Said Afandi is quoted to have said if a killer enters his house he will not prevent him from taking his life. “Let him answer before God for taking my life, than me,” he said. His modest house had no any security measures and was always full with visitors, anyone wishing to meet him had access to his house.

Dagestan is a multiethnic and predominantly Muslim province of nearly 3 million people on the oil-rich Caspian Sea. The mystical Muslim orders of Sufis have for centuries been popular here and in neighboring provinces of Russia's Caucasus region, and their leaders and adherents survived decades of Communist persecution. The Sufi brotherhoods are fiercely opposed to radical and militant Salafis that have mushroomed across the region.

Attacks against spiritual leaders in Russia have been on the rise recently. Militants have increasingly been targeting moderate Muslim leaders who have criticized extreme forms of Islam. Just months ago, a local imam was killed and the mosque set on fire in a small village in the republic. In March, `Abdulghafuril Muhammad, the imam of a mosque in Buynaksk, a city in Dagestan, was assassinated by a remote-controlled explosive device. Sirajudin Haji Israfilov, the imam of a mosque in the town of Derbent, was shot dead at his home in October. Maksud Sadikov, rector of Institute of Theology and International Relations was victim of another such attack last year. Less than two months ago, Ildus Faizov the mufti of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan was seriously injured in a car bomb, and another cleric former deputy mufti Valiulla Yakupov was gunned down outside his apartment in the republic's capital, Kazan on the same day.

Said Afandi had recently initiated peace talks between Sufis and Salafis in the republic and many experts believe that this terrorist act is an attempt to abort peacekeeping efforts in the region and to escalate the situation in southern Russia.

Moscow is struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency in North Caucasus region, nearly a decade after fighting two wars against separatists in Chechnya. Russia claims the region is largely under control, but sporadic bombings, assassinations and attacks on government facilities and troops continue.

Female suicide bombers are often called "black widows" in Russia because many of them are the wives, or relatives, of militants who have been killed by security forces. Some women are driven more by personal revenge for slain relatives than by promises of martyrdom and reward in the afterlife, while others are sent on such attacks against their will, experts say.

Muslims are a large minority of some 20 million in Russia, a country of 143 million people.