More than 15 killed in Dagestan, Russia, as gunmen hit multiple sites

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Assailants opened fire at an Orthodox church, a synagogue and a traffic police post across two cities in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Sunday evening, killing more than 15 police officers and several civilians, local officials said.

The dead included an Orthodox priest, Nikolai Kotelnikov. More than two dozen others were injured in what appeared to be a coordinated attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Kotelnikov, 66, was killed at the Church of Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Derbent. Gunmen also attacked the city’s only synagogue, though it was apparently empty at the time.

Video captured on June 23 shows an attack in Dagestan, Russia. The assailants opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post. (Video: The Washington Post)

Russia opened a “counterterrorist operation” as the shooting continued into the night in Derbent and the regional capital of Makhachkala, including at the Holy Dormition Cathedral, where people were reportedly trapped inside.

Two suspects were killed at a traffic police post in Makhachkala, the Dagestan Interior Ministry said. Another two suspects were detained at a beach there.

State news outlets, citing law enforcement agencies, reported that the attackers were “adherents of an international terrorist organization” and used foreign weapons.

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Sergey Melikov, the head of Dagestan, called the incident “an attempt to destabilize the situation,” while a State Duma member from the republic, Abdulkhakim Gadzhiyev, linked the attack “to the special services of Ukraine and NATO countries.”

In response, Russian senator Dmitry Rogozin complained that if every terrorist attack is “blamed on the intrigues of Ukraine and NATO, this pink fog will lead us to big problems.” The Kremlin, which had no immediate comment on the attack, has frequently made spurious claims about Ukrainian involvement in domestic crises.

For years, Russia has battled a homegrown Islamist insurgency in the Muslim-majority North Caucasus, a legacy of its wars in Chechnya.

Thousands of Dagestanis left Russia to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; hundreds were ultimately brought back to serve prison sentences after the group was defeated by a U.S.-backed coalition.

The Islamic State has continued to claim attacks inside Russia, including a deadly assault on a popular Moscow concert venue in March. At least 137 people were killed in the worst terrorist attack to hit the country in 20 years.

Christian and Jewish religious sites in Dagestan have frequently been targeted by extremists. In 2018, in the city of Kizlyar, a gunman opened fire on churchgoers during a pre-Lent festival, killing five women.

On Oct. 29, a mob stormed Makhachkala airport in response to antisemitic calls on social media to block a passenger plane arriving from Israel. Video taken at the airport showed rioters waving Palestinian flags, breaking down doors and trying to overturn a police car. More than 20 people were injured, including several police officers.

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