* Muslim leader's killing is latest as tension rises
* Insurgents seek Islamist state in North Caucasus
* Violence continues between moderate, more radical Muslims
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, Oct 30 Gunmen shot dead a Muslim
religious leader in Russia's Dagestan region on Tuesday in an
attack likely to worsen a spiral of militant violence that
threatens Moscow's hold on the restive North Caucasus.
Karimulla Ibragimov was at least the fifth Muslim leader
killed this year in Dagestan following a rise in tension between
moderate and more radical Muslims in the southern Russian
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on Ibragimov in the town of
Derbent at around 6:30 a.m (0230 GMT), Russia's Investigative
Committee said. Local officials said he had served as an imam at
an unregistered mosque frequented by radical Muslims.
"All three died on the spot from the gunshot wounds," the
committee, a government agency that handles criminal
investigations, said in a statement.
Russian news agencies said the gunmen escaped in a car.
Dagestan is at the centre of an insurgency for an Islamic
state in the North Caucasus, more than a decade after Russian
troops ousted a rebel government in neighbouring Chechnya and
restored Moscow's direct control.
Security analysts said the violence could be aimed at
spoiling efforts to reconcile moderate and more extremist
Muslims, and provoke a more forceful approach by Moscow which
could further radicalise the population.
President Vladimir Putin, who as prime minister in 1999 sent
troops to Chechnya, has made clear he favours a tough approach
and will not let religious intolerance tear Russia apart.
Russia's most senior Islamic cleric warned in August that
there was a danger of civil war in Dagestan, which is only a few
hundred kilometres (miles) from the city of Sochi where Russia
will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Putin has called for unity and has told security forces to
outsmart and outmuscle Islamist militants to ensure the safety
of the Winter Games and other events Russia is hosting.
CONCERNS OVER EXTREMISM
In comments published on Tuesday, the head of the Dagestan
region, Magomedsalam Magomedov, echoed Putin's remarks and
pleaded for an end to violence.
"We should act against extremism and terrorism with one
front, work more actively, aggressively and in a more targeted
way," he was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as telling a
regional anti-terrorism commission.
Efforts to reconcile adherents to the mystical Sufi branch
of Islam and Muslims who practise the purist Salafi version of
the faith were launched after Putin steered his ally Dmitry
Medvedev into the presidency in 2008.
But security analysts say that renewed violence in Dagestan
could force a more robust approach toward religious intolerance
which could backfire by encouraging retaliation and fuelling
"(Today's attack) could be used as one more argument for the
increased use of force," said Grigory Shvedov, editor of web
news portal Caucasian Knot www.kavkaz-uzel.ru.
"If this approach is implemented, then the violence will
definitely increase a lot," he said.
In August, a woman disguised as a pilgrim detonated a bomb
strapped to her body in Dagestan, killing popular spiritual
leader Said Atsayev, 74, an opponent of militant Islam.
Suicide bombers and gunmen have killed at least three other
religious leaders in Dagestan this year, including another
Salafi leader earlier this month.
In July, the top Muslim official in Tatarstan - about 2,000
km (1,240 miles) from the North Caucasus - was wounded in a
car-bomb attack and his deputy was shot dead the same day.
The attacks raised concerns in Moscow that militant violence
could spread to Russia's heartland and Putin flew to Tatarstan
to appeal for calm.
The attacks have largely been depicted by religious experts
as retribution for the authorities' crackdown on Salafism, which
along with corruption and clan feuds, has been instrumental in
directing young Muslims into the ranks of the insurgency.
Militants led by Russia's most wanted man, the Chechen-born
Doku Umarov, wage almost daily violence to try to establish an
Islamist state in the patchwork of mostly Muslim regions in the
North Caucasus mountains between the Caspian and Black Seas.