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Russian authorities observe three days of mourning after 'Islamic extremists' kill 20 in Dagestan

Russian authorities blamed Islamic "sleeper cells" directed from abroad for the terror attack in Dagestan that killed 20 people on Sunday. The ISIS affiliated group behind the Moscow concert hall attack that killed 145 people also praised the deadly attack in Dagestan.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Published on: June 24, 2024 19:11 IST
Russian officials visit the Derbent synagogue following an
Image Source : REUTERS Russian officials visit the Derbent synagogue following an attack by gunmen in Dagestan.

Moscow: Russia's southern region of Dagestan began three days of mourning after a deadly rampage by Islamic terrorists killed 20 people in the area on Sunday, according to authorities. Armed militants were seen earlier in the day opening fire on two Orthodox churches, a synagogue and a police post in two cities of the Muslim-majority region and authorities blamed the assault on Islamic extremists. 

This was the deadliest attack in Russia since March, where a gunman opened fire at a concert in suburban Moscow, killing 145 people. The affiliate of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan that claimed responsibility for March's raid quickly praised the attack in Dagestan, saying it was conducted by “brothers in the Caucasus who showed that they are still strong."

The Investigative Committee, the country's top state criminal investigation agency, said all five attackers were killed. At least 15 police officers were among the deceased, as was Reverend Nikolai Kotelnikov, a 66-year-old Russian Orthodox priest at a church in Derbent. Medical authorities in Dagestan said at least 46 people were injured. Of those, at least 13 were police, with four officers hospitalised in grave condition.

Scenes of terror in Dagestan

According to Dagestan's Interior Ministry, a group of armed men shot at a synagogue and a church in Derbent, located on the Caspian Sea. Both the church and the synagogue were set ablaze, according to state media. Almost simultaneously, reports appeared about an attack on a church and a traffic police post in the Dagestan capital, Makhachkala.

Militants also barged into the Derbent church and slit Kotelnikov's throat before setting fire to the place of worship. Shortly after the attacks in Derbent, militants fired at a police post in Makhachkala and attacked a Russian Orthodox Church and a synagogue there before being hunted down and killed by special forces.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War argued that the Islamic State group's North Caucasus branch, Vilayat Kavkaz, likely was behind the attack, describing it as “complex and coordinated.” Dagestan Governor Sergei Melikov blamed members of Islamic “sleeper cells” directed from "abroad" but didn't give any other details. He said in a video statement that the assailants aimed at “sowing panic and fear,” and hinted at a link with Moscow's military action in Ukraine without evidence, like Putin had done in March.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin has received reports on Sunday's attacks and efforts to help the victims. Russian state news agency TASS cited law enforcement sources as saying that a Dagestani official Magomed Omarov was detained over his sons' and nephew's involvement in the attacks. 

History of violence in Dagestan

Dagestan is a predominantly Muslim region with a history of violence. In the early 2000s, Dagestan saw near-daily attacks on police and other authorities that was blamed on militant extremists. After the emergence of the Islamic State group, many residents of the region joined it in Syria and Iraq.

The violence in Dagestan has abated in recent years, but mobs rioted at an airport there in October last year, targeting a flight from Israel. More than 20 people were hurt — none of them Israelis — when hundreds of men, some carrying banners with antisemitic slogans, rushed onto the tarmac, chased passengers and threw stones at police. The incident challenged the Kremlin's claims that all religious groups lived in harmony in Russia.

After March's Moscow concert hall attack, Russia's top security agency reported that it had broken up what it called a “terrorist cell” in southern Russia and arrested four of its members who had provided weapons and cash to suspected attackers in Moscow.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Video: Terrorists in Russia's Dagestan openly shoot people on streets, set ablaze churches


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