Gunmen kill 6 police and a priest in Russian’s Dagestan region, officials say

Gunmen on Sunday attacked a synagogue and churches, killing a priest and six police officers in Russia’s Caucasus region of Dagestan, the national counterterrorism agency and police said.

The attacks took place in Dagestan’s largest city of Makhachkala and in the coastal city of Derbent.

Dagestan interior ministry, quoted by Russian news agencies, said two gunmen had been shot dead as the incidents unfolded.

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Plumes of smoke rise in the coastal city of Derbent, Russia on Sunday in this still image obtained from a video. Photo: video obtained by Reuters / via Reuters

Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened criminal investigations over “acts of terror”.

The attack comes three months after 145 people were killed in an attack claimed by Islamic State on a concert hall near Moscow, Russia’s worst terrorist attack in years.

Dagestan is a largely Muslim region of Russia bordering Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Restive Dagestan was in the 2000s hit by an Islamist insurgency spilling over from neighbouring Chechnya, with Russian security forces moving aggressively to combat extremists in the region.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. State news agency TASS cited police as saying that among the attackers had been two sons of the head of central Dagestan’s Sergokala district, who it said had been detained by investigators as a result.

Russian news agencies reported that street fights were gripping Makhachkala, the chief administrative town in Dagestan, a mainly Muslim region on the Caspian Sea.

“This evening in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala armed attacks were carried out on two Orthodox churches, a synagogue and a police checkpoint,” said the National Antiterrorism Committee in a statement to RIA Novosti news agency.

“As a result of the terrorist attacks, according to preliminary information, a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church and police officers were killed.”

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An unofficial channel on the Telegram messaging app, Mash, said police were preparing to storm a building where gunmen were holed up in Derbent.

In all, six police officers had been killed and another 12 wounded in the attacks, a spokeswoman for Dagestan’s interior ministry, Gayana Gariyeva, told RIA Novosti.

A 66-year-old priest was killed in Derbent, the press secretary of Dagestan’s interior ministry, Gariyeva told the agency.

“The synagogue in Derbent is on fire,” the chairman of the public council of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin wrote on Telegram.

“It has not been possible to extinguish the fire. Two are killed: a policeman and a security guard.”

He added: “The synagogue in Makhachkala has also been set on fire and burnt down. During the attack on the Orthodox church in Derbent, the priest’s throat was cut.”

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A shooting scene on the street of Makhachkala in southern Russia on Sunday. Photo: Video obtained by Reuters / via Reuters

The leader of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, wrote on Telegram: “This evening in Derbent and Makhachkala unknown [attackers] made attempts to destabilise the situation in society.

“They were confronted by Dagestani police officers.”

Russian authorities have pointed to militant Muslim elements in previous incidents in the region.

Last October, after the war in Gaza broke out, rioters waving Palestinian flags broke down glass doors and rampaged through Makhachkala airport to look for Jewish passengers on a flight arriving from Tel Aviv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West and Ukraine of stirring up unrest inside Russia in connection with the incident.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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