Gunmen kill 20 in Russia’s Dagestan region

Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024

MOSCOW: A spate of attacks on churches, synagogues and police in Russia’s Dagestan region on Sunday killed at least 20 people and injured two dozen more, officials said on Monday, updating an earlier toll.

“There are 20 dead, another five dead among the fighters, and another 26 injured. Of those 26, some are more serious, so the 20 (killed) could still change,” a spokesperson from Dagestan’s regional health ministry told AFP.

Sunday’s attacks come just three months after Islamic State (IS) group fighters killed more than 140 in a Moscow concert hall, the deadliest attack on Russia for almost 20 years.Moscow said on Monday it had concluded an “anti-terrorist operation” and killed five of the assailants behind the coordinated attacks in the cities of Makhachkala and Derbent.

The incidents also had echoes of the kind of insurgent violence that marred the North Caucasus during the 1990s and 2000s but the Kremlin on Monday dismissed fears of a renewed wave of attacks.

Russia has been a target for attacks in recent years by IS, which opposes Moscow’s military support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and claims to have set-up a “franchise” in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Russian Orthodox archpriest Nikolai Kotelnikov was killed in his church in Derbent, a historic city on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The National Antiterrorism Committee, which responds to mass attacks and is tasked with foiling terror plots, said it had wrapped up a rapid response operation at 08:15 am (0515 GMT) on Monday.

In the 1990s and 2000s, separatist and militant groups waged guerilla-style campaigns against Russian authorities in the mountainous North Caucasus following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had launched criminal probes over “acts of terror”, while Dagestan Governor Sergei Melikov called the attacks an attempt to “destabilise” his region. “We know who is behind these terrorist attacks and what objective they are pursuing,” he added, without providing specific details but making references to the conflict in Ukraine. “We must understand that war comes to our homes too. We felt it but today we face it,” he said.

After the deadly attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall in March, Putin initially said Kyiv had a hand in planning the assault. This was despite no evidence or the fact that an IS affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack on multiple occasions.

In a video message posted on social media on Monday, Melikov said authorities were continuing to hunt for members of “sleeper cells” who had prepared the attacks, including with assistance from abroad.