Deadly assaults on synagogue, churches in Russia’s Dagestan

Published June 24, 2024
THIS screengrab from a video (left) shows smoke rising from a building in Russia’s southern city of Derbent; while (right) emergency service vehicles line a street in Makhachkala, also in the country’s south, on Sunday.—Reuters
THIS screengrab from a video (left) shows smoke rising from a building in Russia’s southern city of Derbent; while (right) emergency service vehicles line a street in Makhachkala, also in the country’s south, on Sunday.—Reuters

MOSCOW: At least seven police officers lost their lives in shootouts with gunmen, as a synagogue, two Orthodox churches and a traffic police station came under attack in the southern Russian region of Dagestan, on Sunday.

The assailants also broke into an Orthodox church in Derbent and killed a local priest. The synagogue in the city, which also came under attack, was allegedly set on fire.

The series of gun and arson attacks in the regional capital, Makhachkala, and the southern city of Derbent also left a national guard officer, while at least 12 officers were injured, including six in an attack on the Makhachkala traffic police station.

The region’s interior ministry officials said four gunmen were eliminated during the operation in Makhachkala.

Seven cops, a local priest and a national guard officer killed; officials say four gunmen eliminated as operation completes in Derbent

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened criminal probes over “acts of terror”, while the hunt for the gunmen was ongoing.

Witnesses could hear shooting near a church in Makhachkala while shootouts were continuing in Derbent, the TASS state news agency reported.

“This evening in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala armed attacks were carried out on two Orthodox churches, a synagogue and a police check-point,” said the National Antiterrorism Committee in a statement to RIA Novosti news agency.

“As a result of the terrorist attacks, according to preliminary information, a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church and police officers were killed.”

Sunday is a religious holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church called Pentecost Sunday.

In all, seven police officers had been killed and another 12 wounded in the attacks, the spokeswoman for Dagestan’s interior ministry, Gayana Gariyeva, told RIA Novosti.

Russia’s National Guard said one of its officers had been killed in Derbent and several others wounded.

Also in Derbent, Gariyeva added, a 66-year-old priest was killed. RGVK broadcaster named the priest as Nikolai Kotelnikov.

Synagogue set on fire

“The synagogue in Derbent is on fire,” the chairman of the public council of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin wrote on Telegram.

“It has not been possible to extinguish the fire. Two are killed: a policeman and a security guard”.

Gorin wrote that firefighters had been told to leave the burning synagogue because of the risk that “terrorists remained inside”. He added: “There is shooting in the streets around the synagogue”.

Sergei Melikov, the leader of Dagestan which is a largely Muslim region neighbouring Chechnya, wrote on Telegram: “This evening in Derbent and Makhachkala unknown (attackers) made attempts to destabilise the situation in society. They were confronted by Dagestani police officers.”

Hours later, Russia’s counter-terrorism agency said the “active phase” of its operation against gunmen who have carried out deadly attacks in Dagestan had ended in one of the two cities targeted.

“In Derbent, the active phase of the counter-terrorist operation is completed,” the National Anti-terrorism Committee said in a statement to Russian news agencies, while the standoff continued in the region’s main city of Makhachkala.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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