KAZAN, Russia, July 19 (UPI) -- A senior Muslim cleric was fatally shot and another wounded by a car bomb Thursday in the central Russian republic of Tatarstan, authorities said.
Investigators said the separate attacks were possible reprisals for the two clerics' criticism of radical Islamists, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The attacks occurred in a largely Muslim region known for religious tolerance but tension has been increasing between moderate Islamic clerical leadership and those who practice the puritanical version of Islam known as Salafism.
The car bombing targeted Ildus Faizov, who was elected Tatarstan's chief mufti last year and has warned the Salafists, who have thousands of followers in the region, were a growing and potentially violent threat, the Journal said.
Valiulla Yakupov, who was fatally shot as he left home in Kazan, and died in a car on the way to a hospital, had served as the mufti's top deputy before recently being put in charge of religious education for the region's Muslim spiritual directorate. The official Web site for Tatarstan called him the "strategist behind Faizov's policy of rooting out religious extremism."
Russia's Investigative Committee called the attacks, which occurred 20 minutes apart, acts of terrorism.
Investigators said Faizov was driving his Toyota Land Cruiser in Kazan when he felt a powerful explosion, then two more blasts. An explosive device had been placed under the vehicle on the passenger side, apparently by someone who knew he usually rode with a chauffeur. He was driving the vehicle Thursday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered law enforcement agencies to "do everything to find, expose and punish the criminals" behind the attacks.