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Russia’s Dagestan Attacks: Gunmen Kill Police Officers, Civilians

Gunmen opened fire in two cities of Russia’s southern republic of Dagestan on Sunday in multiple attacks, reported the Associated Press (AP).

Militants targeted a synagogue, two Orthodox churches and a police post in the cities of Makhachkala and Derbent, killing at least 15 police officers and several civilians, including an Orthodox priest.

Simultaneous Attacks

According to Dagestan’s Ministry of Interior, a group of gunmen opened fire at a synagogue and a church in the city of Derbent. Local media reported that both the synagogue, which is listed as a UNESCO heritage site, and the church caught fire. Footages on social media showed a group of armed men engaged in heavy fire with police.

Russia’s Dagestan Attacks: Gunmen Kill Police Officers, Civilians
Smoke rising from a building in Derbent

In a separate attack, which occurred simultaneously, a group of armed men shot at a church and a traffic police post in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. At least one police officer was killed and six others injured.

Russia’s Dagestan Attacks: Gunmen Kill Police Officers, Civilians
Church in Makhachkala after attack

Terrorist Acts

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee described the attacks in the north Caucasus region as “terrorist acts.” As a result, authorities launched a counter-terrorist operation in the region.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. Authorities opened a criminal investigation on the charge of a terrorist act.

Russia’s Dagestan Attacks: Gunmen Kill Police Officers, Civilians
Russian security forces

So far, the number of militants involved in the attacks is not clear. The Anti-Terrorist Committee said 5 gunmen were “eliminated,” while Dagestan governor, Sergei Melikov, said 6 “bandits” have been “liquidated.”

Dagestan declared three days of mourning, from June 24-26.

Potential Suspects

Russia’s state news agency, Tass, cited law enforcement sources as saying that two sons of the head of central Dagestan’s Sergokala district had been involved in the attacks. Investigators detained the official.

In a video statement early Monday, Melikov said that the law enforcement and local authorities have taken control of the situation in the region. He pledged that the investigations will continue until “all the sleeping cells” are uncovered. He said: “We understand who is behind the organization of the terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued.”

Gunmen Kill Police Officers, Civilians
Russian security forces

The Dagestan governor suggested, without providing evidence, a foreign involvement in the attacks. He said: “Operative-search and investigative measures will be carried out until all participants of the sleeper cells are identified, which, undoubtedly, include some that were organized from abroad.”

Restive Region

Between 2007 and 2017, the predominantly Muslim republic of Dagestan witnessed an extremist insurgency spilling from Chechnya. Russian security forces combated extremists in the region. Since then, attacks have scaled back. In 2017, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) declared it had defeated the insurgency in the region.

However, Russia has experienced a series of attacks in recent years, according to the Guardian. In March, an affiliate of the Islamic State group, called IS Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the mass shooting at a Moscow concert hall, even though Moscow tried to link Ukraine to the attack. It was the deadliest terror attack in recent years, leaving 139 people dead.

In October, a mob stormed the airport in Makhachkala, Dagestan, attempting to block a passenger plane arriving from Israel. The incident came amid public anger over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

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