Leader of Russia's Dagestan blames attacks on 'international terrorists'

(Reuters) - The leader of Russia's mainly Muslim Dagestan region where gunmen last month staged deadly attacks in two cities said on Monday that the security threat was coming from "international terrorist organisations".

State media quoted Sergei Melikov as saying 22 people had died in the June 23 attacks, whose targets included churches and synagogues.

Western security experts said the attacks were further evidence that Russia, preoccupied with its war in Ukraine, faces a growing problem with Islamist militant violence at home. But Melikov insisted the threat was an external one.

"The main threat factor influencing the situation in the republic remains the increased activity of international terrorist organisations," state news agency RIA quoted him as saying.

"And no matter how they try to convince us that the events in Dagestan happened internally, I, for one, will never believe this."

He said there was direct and indirect evidence pointing to the role of "our direct enemies" in the attacks, but did not specify who they were or what the evidence was.

"And in this regard, it is not necessary for Western or other instructors to be on the territory of Dagestan, because today these special services and leaders of terrorist organisations use the Internet, social networks, and may well influence both the training and the ideological state of people who are capable of such crimes," he added.

The attacks in Dagestan came three months after gunmen stormed a concert hall near Moscow, raked it with automatic weapons fire and set it ablaze, killing 145 people in a massacre that was claimed by the militant group Islamic State.

Russia, without providing evidence, has pointed the finger at Ukraine for that attack. Ukraine has dismissed that allegation as absurd.

RIA quoted Dagestan's senior Muslim cleric as saying during a meeting with Melikov that a religious decree, or fatwa, would shortly be issued to ban the wearing of the niqab face veil. Reports following the attacks on June 23 said one of the gunmen had planned to escape wearing a niqab.

The cleric, Akhmed Abdulayev, was quoted as saying that the niqab would be banned until peace and calm were restored to the region, and men who did not want their wives' faces to be seen in public should keep them at home.

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)