MOSCOW (Reuters) - A masked gunman entered a church and murdered a Russian Orthodox priest who had received death threats for converting Muslims to Christianity and criticizing Islam, prosecutors and church officials said Friday.
The killing could threaten delicate relations between the powerful majority Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin, and the country's growing Muslim minority of about 20 million.
The gunman approached priest Daniil Sysoyev, 34, in St Thomas Church in southern Moscow Thursday night, checked his name and then opened fire with a pistol, a spokesman for the investigating committee of the Prosecutor-General's office said.
"The main theory is that religious motives are behind the crime," spokesman Anatoly Bagmet said.
Sysoyev had been previously threatened for his preaching to Muslims:
"I have received 10 threats via e-mail that I shall have my head cut off (if I do not stop preaching to Muslims)," Sysoyev stated on a television program in February 2008, according to Interfax. "As I see it, it is a sin not to preach to Muslims."
Kiril Frolov, the head of the Orthodox Experts Association, told Interfax news agency "Father Daniil ... has been periodically receiving e-mails which said he will be treated as 'infidel' if he did not stop polemics with Muslims," .
Russia is home to Europe's largest Muslim community and Islam is the country's second-biggest faith, something which Sysoyev was highly critical of Islam:
"Islam is far from being a religion in the way we understand it," he said in one of his video lectures posted on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJNPSyh4zFk&feature=related).
"Islam can be rather compared with projects like National Socialism or the Communist party seeking to create God's kingdom on Earth using humanly instruments," he added.
He also wrote books including "An Orthodox Response to Islam" and "Marrying a Muslim," in which he advised Russian women against taking a Muslim partner.
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Hat Tip: Women Against Shariah