In this Thursday, July 14, 2011 file photo, Ildus Faizov, a top Muslim cleric in the Volga River province of Tatarstan, addresses Russia's then-premier Vladimir Putin, unseen, in Kazan, about 700 kilometers (450 miles) east of Moscow. Faizov, known for his criticism of radical Islamist groups known as Salafists, was wounded Thursday,J uly 19, 2012, after an explosive device ripped through his car in Kazan.
Valiulla Yakupov, the deputy to the Muslim province's chief mufti, was gunned down Thursday as he left his house in Tatarstan's regional capital of Kazan, Russia's Investigative Committee said.
Chief mufti Ildus Faizov was wounded in the leg after an explosive device ripped through his car in central Kazan, Tatarstan investigator Eduard Abdullin told The Associated Press.
Both clerics were known as critics of radical Islamist groups that advocate a strict version of Islam known as Salafism. Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin told Russian news agencies that his agency was looking into the clerics' professional activity as a possible reason for the attacks.
The 49-year-old Faizov became Tatarstan's chief mufti in 2011. He has also been criticized by media in Tatarstan for allegedly profiting on tours he organized for Muslim pilgrims and for trying to gain control of one of the oldest and largest mosques in Kazan that receives hefty donations from thousands of believers.
The rise of Salafism in this oil-rich Volga River province has been fueled by the influx of Muslim clerics from Chechnya and other predominantly Muslim provinces of Russia's Caucasus region, where radical Islamists have been involved in a violent confrontation with secular authorities for years.
Former separatists and Islamic radicals from the Caucasus have called for the establishment of khalifate, an independent Islamic state under Shariah law that includes the Caucasus, Tatarstan and other parts of Russia that were once part of the Golden Horde — a medieval Muslim state ruled by a Tatar-Mongol dynasty.
Thousands of their supporters in Tatarstan, including members of Islamist youth groups, wear clothes and beards associated with Salafism.
More than a half of Tatarstan's 4 million people are Sunni Muslims. Tatars converted to Islam more than a thousand years ago, and the province became an important center of Muslim learning and culture under Tatar-Mongol rulers who controlled Russia and parts of Eastern Europe.
A Muslim leader from a neighboring region blamed local authorities for failing to thwart the assassination on Faizov by Islamic radicals. Muhammedgali Khuzin, mufti of the Perm region, told the Interfax news agency that he submitted a report in April to regional authorities about dangers related to the emergence of radical Islamist groups.
"No due security measures have been taken," Khuzin was quoted as saying.
In 2008, a court in Kazan sentenced a radical Islamist leader to life in prison for organizing a group that planned terrorist attacks in Tatarstan. Sixteen of his followers received prison terms ranging from three to 12 years.
Moderate Muslims and officials in Tatarstan have long been concerned about the growing influence of radical Islamists. An anti-terrorism drill for local law enforcement officers will take place later this month.