Sagopshi/Khasavyurt, Russia (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least seven policemen attending the funeral of a colleague in Russia’s volatile Caucasus region of Ingushetia, hours after masked gunmen opened fire in a mosque in nearby Dagestan province, killing one person.
More than a decade after federal forces toppled a separatist government in a war in Chechnya, Russia is still struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency that has spread to other southern provinces in its mainly Muslim Caucasus mountains region.
Militants fighting to carve an Islamic state from the North Caucasus attack officials and law enforcement personnel almost daily but have also increasingly targeted mainstream Muslim leaders backed by the authorities.
The seven policemen were killed and 11 wounded when a suicide bomber attacked a wake being held on Sunday for a fellow officer shot a day earlier in the Malgobek district in the north of Ingushetia, Russian news agencies reported.
Witnesses told Reuters a man wearing camouflage clothing detonated a suicide belt after walking up to the group of officers, who had just arrived at the funeral. A pool of blood lay in the street outside the home in the village of Sagopshi.
“A suicide bomber went into the yard of a private home, where police officers had come to offer condolences to their late colleague, and activated a bomb device attached to a belt,” a spokesman for the local investigators, Zurab Geroyev, told the Interfax news agency.
The bombing came hours after two masked gunmen opened fire in a mosque in the nearby Dagestan region, killing one Muslim worshipper and wounding eight who were celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan. A man who was injured in the attack said some 50 people were gathered in the mosque at the time.
“We were sitting, just finished our prayer and wanted to break our fast,” said Rukhit Samedov, wearing a blood-stained T-shirt and cradling his bandaged hand.
“People just sat down, started eating, and the door opened and there was shooting from automatic guns,” he told Reuters.
“They wore masks and some sort of camouflage.”
Law enforcement officers sent in a robotic device to defuse bombs left by the attackers at the mosque in the city of Khasavyurt.
“Eight people have been admitted to the hospital. Five of them are in the trauma unit, three are in intensive care. Two of those are in a very grave condition,” Ramazan Ismailov, the chief surgeon at the Khasavyurt hospital, told Reuters.
The state RIA news agency said later that one man had died in hospital.
The attacks shook Russia’s Muslim community, many of whom were celebrating Eid ul-Fitr, known as Uraza-Bairam in Russia, to mark the end of a month of fasting for Ramadan.
“This monstrous behavior by militants showed that they will desecrate even a Muslim shrine and the holiday of Uraza-Bairam,” Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov said on state television.
Muslims in the capital celebrated the end of Ramadan under heightened security after a series of recent attacks including in the central province of Tatarstan, long seen as a showcase of religious tolerance in Russia.
The chairman of Russia’s mufti council, Ravil Gainutdin, said he and other Muslim worshippers would be praying for peace.
“Today, on this holiday, Muslims will sincerely pray to Allah to give peace and stability,” Gainutdin told reporters before leading thousands of Muslims worshippers, who spilled into the streets near one of Moscow’s main mosques, in prayer.
Police were out in force patrolling the area with dogs.
In July, Tatarstan’s top Islamic official was wounded in a bomb attack and his deputy shot dead, raising fears that militancy might be spreading to Russia’s heartland.
Additional reporting by Kazbek Basayev; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel, editing by Tim Pearce