Said Afandi, the 74-year-old leader of a powerful Sufi brotherhood, was killed in August along with six other people, including an 11-year-old boy after the bomber approached his house in the central village of Chirkei disguised as a pilgrim.
Afandi's tens of thousands of followers included influential officials, clerics and businessmen, and his killing has deepened the confrontation between moderate Sufis and radical Islamists, known as Salafi.
Provincial police spokesman, Vyacheslav Gasanov, said the three suspects were arrested on Sunday during an anti-terrorism raid in three villages. He said the suspects, who are aged 25 to 36, had escorted the bomber, an ethnic Russian woman who converted to Islam after marrying an Islamist.
The attack on Afandi followed a string of attacks on moderate Muslim leaders in the southern Caucasus region who have publicly denounced the spread of radical Islamic groups known as Salafis. The groups advocate an independent Islamic state, or emirate, that would include Caucasus and parts of southern Russia that contain a significant Muslim population.
Russia's Anti-Terrorism Committee today said that Afandi's killing was aimed at "provoking an armed conflict" in Dagestan. It said the bombing was organised by Salafi leader Magomed Suleimanov, who remains at large.
Dagestan, a multiethnic and predominantly Muslim province of nearly three million people on the oil-rich Caspian Sea, is a focal point of the Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus that faces almost daily shootings, bombings and police operations against rebels. Human rights groups accuse security forces and police of fuelling the insurgency through extrajudicial killings, abductions and other abuses.
The mystical Muslim orders of Sufis have for centuries been popular in Dagestan and neighbouring Caucasus provinces, and their leaders and adherents survived decades of Communist persecution. The Sufi brotherhoods are opposed to radical and militant Salafis that have mushroomed across the region. The Sufis often pray over the tombs of revered saints, and Salafis condemn worshipping over graves as idolatry.
At least two dozen female suicide bombers have carried out terrorist attacks on security officers and civilians in Russian cities and aboard trains and planes in the country since 2000.
Makhachkala: Authorities in Russia have arrested three suspected Islamic militants who aided a female suicide bomber that killed an influential Muslim leader in Russia's violence-plagued province of Dagestan.
First Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012, 15:18