Center for Strategic Communication

A “Black Widow” from the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, an al Qaeda-linked terror group operating in southern Russia, carried out yesterday’s suicide attack in Dagestan that killed a moderate Sufi cleric and six other people. The attack is the third in two months against prominent Muslim clerics who were working to promote moderate versions of Islam in Russia.

Sheikh Said Afandi, an influential Sufi cleric in Dagestan who had tens of thousands of followers, and six other people, including a young girl, were killed by a female bomber who entered his home under the guise of being a follower. The suicide bomber detonated her vest as Afandi was giving a sermon.

The attack was carried out by a Russian woman named Aminat Kurbanova, a convert to Islam whose two previous husbands were “militants” and who was also currently married to “an Islamist militant,” police told Reuters.

Kurbanova is the first ethnic Russian to become a female suicide bomber, according to Reuters. Female suicide bombers from the Caucasus, known as the Black Widows, have targeted Russian civilians and security personnel in multiple attacks over the past decade, including: the attack on the Nord-Ost Moscow theater (129 killed); an assassination attempt against Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov (14 killed); a suicide attack on a train in Southern Russia (46 killed); a dual suicide attack at a rock concert at Tushino Airfield in Moscow (16 killed); the destruction of two Russian airliners in 2004 (more than 90 killed); the attack on a school in Beslan in North Ossetia (334 killed); the Moscow metro bombings (39 killed); and the Moscow airport bombing (37 killed).

The Black Widows are female suicide bombers within the Riyad-us-Saliheen (Garden of Paradise) Martyr Brigade. In the spring of 2009, Doku Umarov, the emir of the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, reignited the Chechen insurgency by launching a wave of suicide attacks in the Caucasus and broadening the battle beyond the Chechen border. In April 2009, Umarov revived the Riyad-us-Saliheen Martyr Brigade, which has spearheaded the assault.

Afandi, the Dagestani cleric killed in yesterday’s attack, is the third prominent moderate cleric targeted by the Islamic Caucasus Emirate in the past six weeks; all three were Sufis. The two other assassinations took place in the Russian republic of Tatarstan, which is hundreds of miles northeast of the Caucasus region.

On July 19, Ildus Faizov, the senior Muslim cleric in Tatarstan, was wounded after he was thrown from his car in a bombing. His deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, was gunned down as he sat on his porch.

Faizov “had been leading efforts to expunge Saudi-trained clerics and extreme Salafist textbooks from local mosques and religious schools,” according to The Christian Science Monitor. Yakupov “was an Islamic scholar who was widely regarded as the main strategist in the fight against religious extremism.”

Both Faizov and Yakupoz were “leading proponents of the officially sponsored brand of Euro-Islam, which preaches tolerance, democracy and acceptance of modern secular life,” The Christian Science Monitor reported.