MOSCOW, Nov. 20, 2009— -- A Russian Orthodox priest known for his missionary work among Muslims was gunned down in his Moscow church, Russian officials said Friday.
Thirty-four-year-old Daniil Sysoyev was shot at least four times at in the head and chest in the Church of St. Thomas by a masked gunman Thursday night, according to the Prosecutor General's Investigative Committee. The assailant also wounded the church's choirmaster, Vladimir Strelbitsky.
Sysoyev died on the way to the hospital. Strelbitsky is in critical condition.
"The main theory is that religious motives are behind the crime," a prosecutor's office spokesman told reporters.
Sysoyev routinely denounced Islam and actively reached out to Muslims and various religious sects to convert them. In a recent interview with a Russian newspaper, Sysoyev boasted that he had baptized 80 Muslims.
But with his ambitious missionary work came death threats.
"They've threatened to cut my head off 14 times," Sysoyev told Komsomolskaya Pravda in the interview. "The FSB [Federal Security Service] got in touch with me a year ago to say they had uncovered a murder plot against me."
He told a television interviewer in February 2008 that he considered it a sin not to preach to Muslims, according to the Interfax news agency.
Sysoyev was originally from the Russian Republic of Tatarstan, where a large majority of the population is Muslim. He published books titled "An Orthodox Response to Islam" and "Marrying a Muslim," which criticized the faith and drew fierce responses from Muslim organizations.
Russia's Council of Muftis strongly denounced the murder Friday, saying differences should be worked out in a civilized way.
"We talk to people, we meet them. They may not always agree with us, but that is no reason to kill. Life was given to us by the Almighty!" council official Damir Gizatullin told Interfax.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church,