Death Toll Rises to 20 After Gunmen Attack Russia’s Dagestan

By Reuters
June 24, 2024Europe
Death Toll Rises to 20 After Gunmen Attack Russia’s Dagestan
An interior view of Derbent synagogue following an attack by gunmen and a fire in Derbent in the region of Dagestan, Russia, on June 24, 2024, in this still image from video. (Head of the Dagestan region Sergei Melikov via Telegram/Handout via Reuters)

MOSCOW—The death toll from a series of brazen attacks on churches and synagogues in Russia’s mainly Muslim region of Dagestan rose to 20 on Monday after gunmen went on the rampage in coordinated attacks in two of the republic’s most important cities.

Gunmen with automatic weapons burst into an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the ancient city of Derbent on Sunday evening, setting fire to an icon at the church and killing a 66-year-old Orthodox priest, Nikolai Kotelnikov.

In the city of Makhachkala, about 125 km (75 miles) north on the Caspian Sea shore, attackers shot at a traffic police post and attacked a church.

Gun battles erupted around the Assumption Cathedral in Makhachkala and heavy gunfire rang out late into the night. Footage showed residents running for cover as plumes of smoke rose above the city.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Russia’s investigative committee said 15 police officers and four civilians were killed. According to Dagestan’s healthcare ministry, 46 more people were wounded.

At least five attackers were killed, some were shown by local media shot dead on a pavement.

“This is a day of tragedy for Dagestan and the whole country,” said Sergei Melikov, the head of the Dagestan region, who on Monday visited the synagogue and church that were attacked in Derbent.

He said that foreign forces had been involved in preparing the attack, but gave no details.

“This is an attempt to cleave apart our unity.”

Dagestan announced three days of mourning. Photos of the dead police officers were lined up on the street by red carnations.

President Vladimir Putin, who has long accused the West of trying to stoke separatism in the Caucasus, sent his condolences to those who lost loved ones.

Dagestan is a mainly Muslim republic of Russia’s North Caucasus, a patchwork of ethnic groups, languages and regions that live in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.