MAKHACHKALA, Russia - A new Muslim scholar has been shot dead in Russia's Dagestan, in the latest episode of murders targeting moderate religious figures in the restive region.
The preliminary theory is (the victim's) religious activities, investigator Rasul Temirbekov told a Russian television channel, Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, August 4.
The attack occurred on Saturday evening when gunmen opened fire on 66-year-old Ilyas Ilyasov as he was getting into his car near his home in Makhachkala, the largest city in the region.
Ilyasov, a popular imam at a mosque in western Makhachkala, died on the spot, while his driver was injured and hospitalized, Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Investigators said Ilyasov had received threats but did not specify from whom.
Known in Dagestan as an intellectual, a skilled orator, and a mediator who had resolved several high-profile conflicts in the region, Ilyasov has been a vocal critic of the government's policies at rallies.
The new killing takes to seven the number of imams killed in attacks in Russia this year.
Last December, Deputy mufti Ibragim Dudarov was shot dead in the internal Russian republic of North Ossetia.
In August 2012, prominent Sufi Muslim scholar Said Atsayev was killed in a suicide attack in North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan.
A month earlier, the mufti of Russia's largely-Muslim region of Tatarstan was injured and his deputy was killed in a rare attack on Muslim leaders in the oil-rich republic.
In April, a Russian Muslim activist was found dead with his throat slashed in Moscow.
The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.
Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.