Attacks on places of worship in Russia’s Dagestan kill cops, a priest, and regular people

On Sunday, gunmen attacked places of worship in two towns in the southernmost province of Russia called Dagestan. The attacks killed at least 15 police officers, an Orthodox priest, and four civilians. It looked like the attacks were planned ahead of time.

At least six “militants” were also killed in the attacks on churches, synagogues, and police stations in Derbent and Makhachkala, which are about 120 kilometers (75 miles) apart and are the regional center and largest city.

The killings happened in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, which is mostly Muslim and on the Caspian Sea. This area has a history of separatist and militant violence. The instability in the area has been made worse by Russia’s war in Ukraine, where a lot of ethnic minorities have been called up to fight.

Photos and videos showed big fires and thick clouds of smoke coming out of a synagogue in Derbent. Video taken from the window of a building in Makhachkala shows people in black shooting at a police car in the street.

Three months ago, an ISIS branch called ISIS-K said it was behind an attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall that killed more than 140 people and was one of the deadliest terrorist acts in Russia in years. No group has yet claimed credit for the latest attacks.

On Sunday, Russian police told the state-run news agency TASS that the gunmen in Dagestan were “members of an international terrorist organization.”

The National Antiterrorist Committee (NAC) of Russia said on Monday that in the two towns, “armed militants attacked two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and police officers.” TASS reported that the operation to fight terrorism in Makhachkala and Derbent was also over.

On Monday, Russia’s investigative committee said that four people were killed in the attacks. This brought the total number of deaths to 19.

In a Telegram message sent early Monday, Melikov, the head of Dagestan, also said that the active part of the “operational and combat measures in Makhachkala and Derbent” was over, but that more research would still be done.

Melikov talked about the possibility of “sleeper cells” being involved and said the strikes might have had help from outside Russia.

“Operative search and investigative measures will be used until all members of the sleeper cells are identified,” he said. “This will definitely include some that were organized from outside of the country.”

After the shootings that killed several people, Dagestan has announced three days of mourning. State flags have been lowered to half-staff, Melikov said. TASS says that the families of the dead will also get money to help them.

Death of a priest and fire in a synagogue

A very small number of Christians and Jews live in Dagestan. It looked like some of them were targeted in the attacks on Sunday.

Shamil Khadulaev, head of the Dagestan Public Monitoring Commission, said that the priest killed in an attack on a church in Derbent was Father Nikolay.

“They cut his throat.” Khadulaev said, “He was 66 years old and very sick.”

A video from the night shared by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Dagestan showed at least 12 police officers outside the gates of a church in northwest Makhachkala. The officers looked armed and were wearing tactical gear. A video from CNN was found at the walls of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Assumption (Svyato-Uspenskiy Sobor) in the city.

TASS said earlier on Sunday that a security guard had been killed in a shootout at the church and that 19 people had locked themselves inside during the attack. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Dagestan told TASS that the people who were hiding there have since been taken to safety.

A statement from the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC) said that two churches in Dagestan, one in Derbent and one in Makhachkala, were also attacked.

As evening prayer was ending, shooters broke into the Derbent synagogue and “set the building on fire using Molotov cocktails.” Outside, police and security guards were killed, the RJC said.

Photos showed that flames and smoke were coming out of several windows on at least one floor of the building.

The small group of Jews living in Dagestan are related to the Mountain Jews who lived for hundreds of years in parts of Azerbaijan and what is now Russia’s Caucasus, according to Yad Vashem, the Israeli World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the guards at the Derbent synagogue had been killed and that the building had “burned to the ground.” They also said that shooting had hit the Makhachkala synagogue.

“As far as we know, there were no worshipers in the synagogues at the time of the attack,” the ministry said in a statement. “There are also no known Jewish casualties.”

Since a racist mob stormed through the local airport in October to try to stop a passenger plane from Tel Aviv, there have been security guards outside of synagogues in the area.

Videos showed a crowd of people inside and on the runway of Makhachkala Uytash Airport, some waving the Palestinian flag and others pushing their way through closed doors in the international terminal. At least 10 people were hurt in the fighting.

People in the area were getting more and more angry about Israel’s bombing and blocking of Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attacks on Israel on October 7. This led to the attack on the airport.

There is an investigation going on after cops killed

On Sunday, there was also an attack at a police traffic post in Makhachkala.

The Telegram channel for the Dagestan Ministry of Internal Affairs says that one of the police officers killed was Mavludin Khidirnabiev, who was in charge of the “Dagestan Lights” police station.

Melikov, the head of Dagestan, said in a previous Telegram post that “unknown persons tried to destabilize the social situation.” The Dagestan cops stood in their way. Early knowledge suggests that there are victims among them.

He said that the attackers’ names were being worked out.

Over the course of a video address, Melikov said, “The attacks, the encroachments on our brotherhood, on our multinational unity, on our confessional indivisibility are an attempt to split our unity, thereby creating rifts between us.”

An investigation into the killings was started by the Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Republic of Dagestan. The investigation is based on the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

The agency said in a statement, “All the facts of the case and the people involved in the terrorist attacks are being gathered, and their actions will be judged by the law.”

Some Russian officials in the area blamed Ukraine while the investigation was still going on, but they didn’t have any proof. Dmitry Gadzhiyev, a deputy from Dagestan in the State Duma, said he thinks the attack may have been planned by “special services of Ukraine and NATO countries.”

But in a Telegram post, Russian senator Dmitry Rogozin denied the claim. He said that Russia would have “big problems” if it thought that every terrorist act was caused by “the schemes of Ukraine and NATO.”

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