Nineteen Dead in Coordinated Attacks on Churches and Synagogue in Southern Russia

Synagogue in Southern Russia
Synagogue in Southern Russia

Coordinated attacks in Dagestan, Russia, have left 19 police officers and several civilians dead. The violence targeted police posts, churches, and a synagogue, sparking widespread chaos. Investigations and mourning are underway.

In a series of coordinated attacks in Russia’s North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, 19 police officers and several civilians were killed, while 16 others were injured and hospitalized. The violence targeted police posts, churches, and a synagogue, with six gunmen also reported dead. The attacks occurred in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala during the Orthodox festival of Pentecost.

Details of the Attack

The attacks began on Sunday, with gunmen attacking a synagogue and a church in Derbent, which were subsequently set on fire. Derbent is known for its ancient Jewish community. Simultaneously, coordinated attacks were launched in Makhachkala. Footage on social media depicted assailants in dark clothing shooting at police vehicles, followed by emergency services rushing to the scenes.

Among the victims was Father Nikolai Kotelnikov, an Orthodox priest who had served in Derbent for over 40 years. His death was confirmed by Sergei Melikov, the head of the Republic of Dagestan.

Official Responses and Claims

Following the attacks, three days of mourning were declared in Dagestan. Sergei Melikov suggested a possible link to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, implying that Ukraine might have been involved in organizing the attacks. “We understand who is behind the organisation of the terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued,” Melikov stated in a video posted on Telegram.

Leonid Slutsky, head of the Russian State Duma’s international affairs committee, echoed this sentiment, suggesting the attacks in Dagestan and a missile strike in Sevastopol were orchestrated to sow panic and divide the Russian people.

However, Dmitry Rogozin, a prominent Russian nationalist in occupied Ukraine, cautioned against attributing every attack to Ukraine and NATO, warning that such assumptions could lead to greater issues.

 Historical Context and Recent Incidents

Dagestan has a history of Islamist attacks, having been targeted by jihadist organizations such as the Caucasus Emirate and the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus between 2007 and 2017. These groups also staged attacks in neighboring Russian republics including Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Despite President Vladimir Putin’s assertion in the aftermath of the Crocus City Hall attack in Moscow that Russia was immune to Islamist terrorism due to its “unique example of interfaith harmony,” recent events have challenged this claim. In March, an attack on the Crocus City Hall near Moscow left 147 dead, which Russian authorities blamed on Ukraine and the West, although the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Three months ago, Russia’s domestic security service, the FSB, reported thwarting an IS plot to attack a Moscow synagogue, indicating ongoing threats from Islamist extremists.

The tragic events in Dagestan highlight the persistent threat of terrorism in the region and the complex interplay of local and international factors. As the Republic mourns its losses, the Russian government has ended the counter-terrorism operation initiated in response to the attacks. President Vladimir Putin extended his condolences to the victims’ families, as the nation grapples with the implications of these coordinated assaults on its security and unity.