Mufti Ildus Faizov, the top Islamic official in Russia's historically Muslim Tatarstan region, survived not one, but three bombs aimed at his vehicle on Thursday in the Tatar capital, Kazan. Faizov was hospitalized, but made an appearance on regional television following the attack. His associate, Deputy Mufti Valiulla Yakupov, he was shot in the head and killed by an unknown assailant in an attack staged simultaneously with the attack on Faizov. The timing of the attacks, and their targets, have Russia calling them an act of terror and suspecting they were organized and carried out by radical Muslim groups from the volatile North Caucasus region.
Faizov has been a high-profile and outspoken critic of the violent extremism that has taken root in the Caucasus region. Unrest in the region started in the mid-1990s in Chechnya, which was the site of two brutal wars. In recent years, Moscow has basically turned Chechnya over to local strongman, and Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has used his own brutal tactics to crush the separatist movement within Chechnya. However, this has only forced Islamic militants to relocate to neighboring Russian republics like Dagestan and Ingushetia, where they are continuing their attempts to carve a fundamentalist Muslim caliphate out of Russia's southernmost flank. While most of the violence has been confined to the Caucasus region, the extremists have staged a number of high-profile terror attacks in other parts of Russia, the most recent being the January 2011 suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport that killed 37 people.
With an indigenous Muslim population growing faster than the Russian Orthodox segment, Moscow has been eager to support Faizov's more tolerant, more inclusive version of Islam up as a model within the country. But this has also made him a target for the extremists.
While the militants of the Caucasus region are suspected to be behind Thursday's attacks, no single group has yet claimed responsibility. It is also too early to tell if the attacks against Faizov and Yakupov are a one-off strike, an attempt at sowing unrest in Tatarstan, or the beginning of a new wave of terror attacks across Russia.