Police officers, civilians and priest killed in attacks in Russia

Police Officers, Civilians And Priest Killed In Attacks In Russia
The gunmen opened fire on two Orthodox churches, a synagogue and a police post in two cities in Dagestan. Photo: PA Images
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Associated Press Reporters

Russia’s southern region of Dagestan held the first of three days of mourning on Monday following a rampage by suspected Islamic militants who killed 19 people, most of them police, and attacked houses of worship in apparently co-ordinated assaults in two cities.

Sunday’s violence in Dagestan’s regional capital of Makhachkala and nearby Derbent was the latest that officials blamed on Islamic extremists in the predominantly Muslim region in the North Caucasus, as well as the deadliest in Russia since March, when gunmen 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”.

Dagestan governor Sergei Melikov visiting the damaged the Kele-Numaz synagogue in Derbent
Dagestan governor Sergei Melikov, centre, visits the damaged the Kele-Numaz synagogue in Derbent (The Telegram Channel of the head of Dagestan Republic of Russia via AP)

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War argued that the Islamic State group’s North Caucasus branch, Vilayat Kavkaz, was likely to have been behind the attack, describing it as “complex and co-ordinated”.


Dagestan governor Sergei Melikov blamed members of Islamic “sleeper cells” directed from abroad, but did not give any other details.

He said in a video statement that the assailants aimed at “sowing panic and fear”, and attempted to link the attack to Moscow’s military action in Ukraine — but also provided no evidence.

Russian president Vladimir Putin had sought to blame the March attack on Ukraine, again without evidence and despite the claim of responsibility by the Islamic State affiliate. Kyiv has vehemently denied any involvement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin has received reports on Sunday’s attacks and efforts to help the victims.


FSB officers entering a building during a counter-terrorist operation
FSB officers conduct a counter-terrorist operation in Dagestan, Russia (The National Antiterrorism Committee via AP)

The Investigative Committee, the country’s top state criminal investigation agency, said all five attackers were killed. Of the 19 people killed, 15 were police.

Among the dead was the Rev Nikolai Kotelnikov, a 66-year-old Russian Orthodox priest at a church in Derbent. The attackers slit his throat before setting fire to the church, according to Shamil Khadulayev, deputy head of a local public oversight body.


The attack came as the Orthodox faithful celebrated Pentecost, also known as Trinity Sunday.

The Kele-Numaz synagogue in Derbent was also set ablaze.

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.

Medical authorities in Dagestan said 16 people, including 13 police, were hospitalised with injuries, and with four officers in grave condition.


Russian news reports said the attackers included the two sons and a nephew of Magomed Omarov, the head of the main Kremlin’s party United Russia’s regional branch in Dagestan. Mr Omarov was detained by police for interrogation, and United Russia quickly dismissed him from its ranks.

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 in a sign that extremist sentiments still run high in the region, mobs rioted at an airport there in October, targeting a flight from Israel.

Dagestan governor Sergei Melikov, centre, comforts a priest
Dagestan governor Sergei Melikov, centre, comforts a priest as he visits the Orthodox Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Derbent after the attack (The Telegram Channel of the administration of the head of Dagestan Republic of Russia via AP)

More than 20 people were hurt — none of them Israelis — when hundreds of men, some carrying banners with antisemitic slogans, rushed onto the runway, chased passengers and threw stones at police.

The airport rampage challenged the Kremlin’s narrative that ethnic and religious groups co-exist 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.

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