Gunmen Kill 19 In Russia’s Dagestan Region

Attacks on churches and synagogues in Russia’s Dagestan area killed 19 people, mostly police officers, officials said Monday, raising concerns about Islamist extremism in the historically restive North Caucasus.

The attacks on Sunday come barely three months after Islamic State fighters massacred over 140 people in a Moscow concert hall, the biggest terror attack on Russia in over two decades.

Moscow announced on Monday that it has completed a “anti-terrorist operation” and killed five of the perpetrators responsible for the synchronized strikes on Sunday evening in Makhachkala and Derbent.

The incidents also bore overtones of the insurgent violence that plagued the North Caucasus in the 1990s and 2000s.

Islamic State terror has targeted Russia in recent years, with the fundamentalist group rejecting Moscow’s military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and claiming to have established a “franchise” in Russia’s North Caucasus.

“According to preliminary data, 15 law enforcement officers were killed, as well as four civilians, including an Orthodox priest,” Russia’s Investigative Committee, which investigates grave crimes, said on Monday.

It also stated that five assailants had been “liquidated,” though it was unclear how many were involved in the attack.

The Russian Orthodox Church reported that its archpriest, Nikolai Kotelnikov, had been “brutally killed” in an attack on a church in Derbent.

The National Antiterrorism Committee, which responds to major attacks and foils terror schemes, announced Monday morning that it has completed its quick response operation.

“Following the neutralization of threats to citizens’ lives and health, it was decided to end the anti-terrorist operation in Dagestan” at 08:15 a.m. (05:15 GMT), according to a statement.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s, separatist and militant organizations launched guerilla-style attacks against Russian authorities in the rugged North Caucasus.

Moscow fought two battles for control of the neighboring Chechnya region, and President Vladimir Putin boasted about his accomplishment in quelling the rebellion at the outset of his presidency.

‘War’

More than 12 hours after the attack unfolded, the Kremlin was yet to comment.

On Monday, some of Russia’s partners and allies, including China and Azerbaijan, which borders the Dagestan region, issued messages of condolence.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened criminal probes over “acts of terror,” while Dagestan’s 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.

Following the devastating attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall in March, Putin first claimed Kyiv was involved in the planning, despite the lack of evidence and several claims of responsibility by an IS affiliate.

In a video statement broadcast on social media Monday morning, Melikov stated that officials were looking for “all the members of these sleeper cells who prepared (the attacks) and who were prepared, including abroad.”

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a staunch Kremlin supporter, stated that the “enemy” was attempting to destroy “inter-religious peace” in Russia without saying who he believed was responsible.

Two Orthodox churches, two synagogues, and a police roadblock were all targeted, according to officials and the Russian Jewish Congress.

Molotov cocktails

Pentecost Sunday was a holy feast observed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

According to Dagestan’s interior ministry, 19 people sought cover inside a church in Makhachkala before being brought to safety.

According to the Russian Jewish Congress, gunmen assaulted synagogues in both locations, lighting them on fire with Molotov cocktails.

In April, Russia’s FSB security service announced that four persons had been arrested in Dagestan on suspicion of planning the deadly attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall concert venue in March, which was claimed by IS.

Militants from Dagestan have been known to travel to Syria to join IS, and in 2015, the group announced the establishment of a “franchise” in the North Caucasus.

Russian officials have routinely announced successful “anti-terrorist operations” against purported IS fighters in the north Caucasus.

Tensions have also risen in the Muslim-majority region since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war last year.

An irate crowd stormed the local airport in October after social media reports indicated that a jet was arriving from Israel.

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