A man who described himself as the chief guerrilla fighter of the central region of Tatarstan said in a video message posted on a website frequently used by Chechen fighters that he personally ordered last month’s strikes.
Tatarstan’s chief cleric Ildus Faizov (pictured) survived a July 19 car bombing with severe burns while his one-time deputy Valiulla Yakupov died the same day in a hail of bullets moments after stepping outside his front door.
A video posted on the Russian-language KavkazCenter.com website showed a young man who gave his name as Muhammad crouching in the woods with a rifle between his legs and reading from a prepared text.
He described himself as the “emir of the mujahedeen of Tatarstan” but gave no name for his organisation.
“On July 19, 2012, on my orders an operation was conducted against the enemies of Allah — Ildus Faizov and Valiulla Yakupov,” the lightly-bearded man said.
He issued a stark warning to all moderate Muslim leaders of Tatarstan who refuse to practise the strict sharia interpretation of Islamic law adhered to by most rebel fighters in the North Caucasus.
“We will continue to conduct further operations against the enemies of Allah,” he said.
“I address all the imams (religious leaders) of Tatarstan. I urge them to return to the fundamentals of sharia and to stop promoting traditional Islam.
“If any of the imams do not want to or cannot carry out the points established by sharia, they should leave their posts. That way, you will be protected from the mujahedeen.”
The claim underscores Kremlin concerns of almost ceaseless North Caucasus violence spilling over after two decades to far more peaceful parts of Russia such as the vibrant oil-producing region of Tatarstan.
President Vladimir Putin called the attacks against the clerics a “serious signal” that required tighter security measures and undisclosed “pre-emptive” steps.
The attacks came less than three months after Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term — extending an era of domination that began when he launched a brutal war in Chechnya while still prime minister in 1999.
Russian investigators said a day after the attacks that they had detained five suspects and that the motive appeared to be the clerics’ fight against Muslim radicals.
Local authorities on Saturday issued arrest warrants for two more men — identified as Robert Valeyev and Rais Mingaleyev — they said had played primary roles in organising the attacks.
The Islamist’s claim failed to appear in any major Russian media outlet because of strict laws forbidding the citation of rebel-linked websites such as KavkazCenter.com.
But the Tatarstan authorities have already responded to the perceived threat by drafting restrictions to the local law on religion that specifically targets foreigners from volatile countries such as Afghanistan.
The legislation would only permit Russian citizens to serve as Muslim clerics or open new religious organisations in Tatarstan.
The region’s president Rustam Minnikhanov said on Friday that he intended to sign the proposals into law within the coming days.