MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
A picture taken on August 28, 2012, shows people gathering near a mosque in the town of in Khasavyurt in Russia's restive Muslim region of Dagestan during the funeral of Sheikh Said Afandi killed by a female suicide bomber. AFP photo
Russia's Islamic spiritual leader appealed for calm on Wednesday amid rising Muslim violence that witnessed the suicide blast killing of a top moderate cleric in the restive Caucasus region of Dagestan.
A security source in the Caspian Sea region said Tuesday's attack on Sheikh Said Afandi al-Chirkavi that killed six others was staged by the 30-year-old widow of an Islamic radical who was identified by analysis of her severed head.
The attack came just a month after the assassination attempt against another prominent pro-government cleric in a different region that killed one and was claimed by a militant follower of the strict Wahhabist strain of Islam.
The religious violence and threat of new attacks against Muslims who work with the Kremlin has threatened to undermine President Vladimir Putin's goal of reclaiming control on the restive region with the help of loyal clerics.
That fear was underscored on Wednesday by warnings from both the head of the national clerical council and the chair of the Russian
parliament's religious affairs committee.
Chief council cleric Ravil Gaynutdin said the attacks threatened to destroy "the beginnings of inter-Muslim dialogue" along Russia's impoverished and violence-plagued southern rim.
"I call on you to adhere to a fraternal Muslim sense of responsibility before the danger of sectarian strife and the splintering of the Muslim religious community," Gaynutdin said in a statement.
The lower house of parliament's religious affairs committee chief for his part accused radical forces outside Russia
of "fomenting the flames" of Muslim-on-Muslim violence that could further destabilise the country.
"Russia is coming under attack," Yaroslav Nilov told the Interfax news agency.
The 85-year-old Afandi was widely viewed as one of Dagestan's most revered religious teachers whose funeral drew vast crowds only hours after the killing.
The Interfax news agency estimated attendance at up to 150,000 people.
The overwhelmingly Muslim republic has a long tradition of Sufi culture that militant and long-outlawed leaders such as the warlord Doku Umarov have tried to break with radical teachings.
Umarov's Caucasus Emirate group has for the past five years been trying to establish a pan-Caucasian Islamic state that includes neighbouring Chechnya and other Russian
territories such as Ingushetia and South Ossetia.