The leader of Russia's Islamic rebels ordered a halt to attacks on civilians, saying mass opposition protests showed the public no longer supported Vladimir Putin, according to a video posted Friday.
"I order all special groups that are carrying out or plan to carry out special operations in Russia to put a halt to these operations that could hurt the peaceful population", Dokku Umarov said in a video address posted on the rebel website kavkazcenter.com.
"Today's events in Russia have shown us that Russia's peaceful population does not support Putin's Chekist regime and are hostages of a regime that is fighting against Islam in the Caucasus".
A "Chekist" is a commonly used term in Russian for an employee of the security services, who are hugely prominent in Russia under Putin who is himself a former KGB agent.
His once iron grip on the country has been shaken by a series of mass protests against his rule ahead of March 4 presidential elections where he is seeking a historic third Kremlin term.
"If this peaceful population does not take part in the war against Islam, our religion tells us to take care of this peaceful population and not to touch them", said Umarov.
"This population definitely does not support Putin", he added.
The video showed Umarov -- who over the last years has eluded numerous attempts by Russia on his life -- sitting in khaki fatigues in snow-covered woods flanked by two bearded comrades.
He said after the halt on civilian attacks, special operations should be carried out "with precision against the security services, the special services and the reprobate who are officials and are enemies of Allah", he added.
Kavkaz Center said that with this "decree" Umarov had "changed the status" of the Russian population.