Over 15 Russian cops, civilians killed in attacks on synagogues, churches in Dagestan

Orthodox priest among those slain in seemingly coordinated assaults on Makhachkala and Derbent, with synagogues in both cities set ablaze; Jewish community reports no injuries

Gunmen seen attacking synagogues, churches and a police checkpoint in Russia’s Dagestan on June 23, 2024. (Social media/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law); Police forces seen at one of the scenes of the attacks (RIA NOVOSTI/AFP)

Gunmen on Sunday attacked synagogues, churches and a police checkpoint in Russia’s Dagestan, killing over 15 police officers and several civilians in the North Caucasus region’s national guard, according to the governor.

The seemingly coordinated attacks were carried out at two synagogues and two churches in Derbent and Makhachkala in Dagestan, a largely Muslim region of Russia neighboring Chechnya. Derbent is home to an ancient Jewish community and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Among the slain civilians was an archpriest the Russian Orthodox Church said identified as Nikolai Kotelnikov, who was “brutally killed” in Derbent, where Russia’s National Guard said one of its officers was killed and several others wounded.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were declared days of mourning in the region.

The Anti-Terrorist Committee said five gunmen were “eliminated” after local authorities declared a counter-terror operation. Governor Sergei Melikov said six “bandits” had been “liquidated.” The conflicting numbers couldn’t be immediately reconciled and it wasn’t clear how many assailants were involved in the attacks.

An image of one of the dead attackers showed a bearded man wearing black fatigues lying motionless on the street.

Screen capture of a video allegedly taken at a shooting at a synagogue in Derbent, in Russia’s Dagestan region, June 23, 2024. (Screenshot: X, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday evening that shots were fired at a synagogue in Derbent and a synagogue in Makhachkala. It added that it was unaware of any injuries in the Jewish community and that both buildings had been empty at the time of the attacks.

The rabbi of Makhachkala, Rami Davidov, later told RIA Novosti that no one was killed or injured there.

The Russian Jewish Congress said on its website the Derbent synagogue was attacked about 40 minutes before evening prayers.

Gunmen fired at police and security guards and threw in Molotov cocktails, it said, adding that the attack in Makhachkala was similar.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened criminal probes over “acts of terror.”

The head of the Dagestan Republic, Sergey Melikov, wrote on Telegram on Sunday evening that an operational headquarters had been set up to aid in the investigation and determine the identities of the attackers.

“The synagogue in Derbent is on fire. It has not been possible to extinguish the fire,” the chairman of the public council of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin, wrote on Telegram.

“The synagogue in Makhachkala has also been set on fire and burnt down.”

Gorin wrote that in Derbent, firefighters had been told to leave the burning synagogue because of the risk that “terrorists remained inside.”

Russian state media said the church next to the synagogue in Derbent was also set on fire.

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

Emergency services were battling to extinguish the fires, the state-owned TASS news agency reported.

Footage on social media showed smoke pouring from a building surrounded by trees in the middle of a residential area.

Melikov vowed stiff punishment for “whichever forces lies behind these disgusting actions,” for which there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“We understand who is behind the organization of the terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued,” he said, without disclosing further details.

Russia’s state media cited law enforcement as saying that among the attackers had been two sons of the head of central Dagestan’s Sergokala district, who it said had been detained by investigators.

Gunmen are seen in a video taken during a terror attack in the Russian region of Dagestan, June 24, 2024. (Screenshot: X, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Russia’s FSB security service in April said it had arrested four people in Dagestan on suspicion of plotting the deadly attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall concert venue in March, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Terror operatives from Dagestan are known to have traveled to join IS in Syria, and in 2015, the group declared it had established a “franchise” in the North Caucasus.

Sunday’s attacks also came after an antisemitic mob of rioters stormed Dagestan’s main airport and onto the landing field in October in an attempt to confront Jewish passengers aboard a flight from Israel. The violence in the mostly Muslim region, which erupted amid the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, prompted Israel to call on Russia to protect its citizens.

Dagestan lies east of Chechnya, where Russian authorities battled separatists in two brutal wars, first in 1994-1996 and then in 1999-2000.

Since the defeat of Chechen insurgents, Russian authorities have been locked in a simmering conflict with Islamist terrorists from across the North Caucasus that has killed scores of civilians and police.

Most Popular
read more: