Deadly Coordinated Assaults on Religious and Police Sites in Dagestan Leave Multiple Victims

Dagestan, Russia – A series of violent attacks rocked the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Sunday evening, resulting in over 15 police fatalities and the deaths of several civilians, including an Orthodox priest. The coordinated gunfire targeted an Orthodox church, a synagogue, and a traffic police station in two major cities, sparking a swift response from Russian security forces.

In the city of Derbent, assailants struck the Church of Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary where Priest Nikolai Kotelnikov, age 66, lost his life. The city’s synagogue, which was empty at the time of the attack, also suffered damages. Across the region in Makhachkala, the regional capital, heavy gunfire prompted Russian authorities to declare a “counterterrorism operation.” The Holy Dormition Cathedral in Makhachkala became a focal point of tension as individuals inside were reportedly trapped during the assault.

Amid the chaos, the Dagestan Interior Ministry confirmed the death of two suspects at a Makhachkourala traffic police post and the detention of two more suspects near a local beach. Official sources noted that the attackers used foreign-manufactured weapons, hinting at the sophisticated nature of the assault.

The identities and affiliations of the attackers remain unclear, but state media outlets suggested ties to an international terrorist organization. The exact motive remains unconfirmed, and no group immediately claimed responsibility for the onslaught.

The attacks have plunged Dagestan into a state of heightened security and fear, amidst concerns about the potential for further violence. Sergei Melikov, the head of Dagestan, described the events as an effort to destabilize the region. Meanwhile, speculation regarding the involvement of external forces was fueled by statements from local lawmaker Abdulkhakim Gadzhiyev, who suggested a connection to Ukrainian and NATO special services, a claim met with scepticism by others within Russian governance.

Russian officials, including Senator Dmitry Rogozin, have expressed their concerns regarding the swift attribution of terrorist activities to foreign intrigue, warning against oversimplification that could lead to broader issues.

Historically, Dagestan has encountered challenges related to Islamist insurgencies and extremism. The region remains a focal point for Russian security services battling remnants of separatist and Islamist movements. The presence of fighters from Dagestan in conflicts abroad, including in Iraq and Syria as part of the Islamic State, continues to impact the domestic security landscape. Attempts by returning jihadists to re-integrate into society, often facing imprisonment, have been fraught with difficulties.

In light of these recent attacks, memories of past violence haunt the residents of Dagestan. The region has witnessed several attacks against religious and civil targets over the years, including a notable incident in 2018 when a gunman attacked churchgoers in Kizlyar, killing five.

The implications of these attacks are broad, raising questions about the efficacy of existing security measures and the potential for future unrest in this strategically important, yet troubled part of Russia. As officials and citizens grapple with the fallout, the international community watches closely, aware of the broader geopolitical implications of instability in the North Caucasus.