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Russia probes church shooting for 'extremist' links: Kremlin

© AFP | Map of the Caucasus region locating Kizliar in northern Dagestan, where a gunman killed five women before he was shot dead by police

MOSCOW (AFP) - 

Russia is investigating whether the gunman behind a deadly attack on an Orthodox church in the North Caucasus had extremist ties, the Kremlin said Monday after Islamic State claimed the shooting.

"There is an investigation into whether the attacker was linked to extremist organisations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists a day after five women were shot dead near an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, a town in the Dagestan region.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group who referred to the gunman, who was shot dead by police, as "a soldier of Islam" in a post on the Telegram messaging app.

Peskov did not mention the IS explicitly, saying only "there are indeed several organisations, including those tied to international terrorism, who are continuing their destructive activities."

The Investigative Committee said Sunday the assailant was a local resident born in 1995. It launched a murder probe but not an official terrorism investigation.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill condemned the attack, saying it aimed to sow discord between religious groups in the Caucasus.

The Mufti of Dagestan, the North Caucasus region's official Muslim institution, also condemned the attack in a statement saying those who used "pseudo-Islam as cover (for violence) have nothing to do with Islam."

The church in Kizlyar on Monday held a service in memory of the victims while all Orthodox churches in Dagestan boosted security.

"We must think of how to educate our youth, because the attacker was a very young person but already deeply confused in his views," said Orthodox Archbishop Varlaam, a top-ranking cleric in the region who led the service.

"Clearly somebody used him, somebody who wants to sow discord between Orthodox and Muslim people," he told the worshippers Monday.

Four people remained in hospital after Sunday's attack, including two women in serious condition, the regional health ministry said.

© 2018 AFP