Dagestan attack: 20 dead including police officers and priest after gunmen open fire in Russia

Gunmen opened fire at a synagogue, an Orthodox church, and a police post in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, killing at least 20 people in what seemed to be coordinated attacks on several places of worship in Russia’s southernmost province of Dagestan.

At least 15 police officers were among the dead, alongside a 66-year-old Orthodox priest, a security guard and three other civilians.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks in the volatile North Caucasus region, according to the region’s interior ministry.

“This is a day of tragedy for Dagestan and the whole country,” Sergei Melikov, governor of the Dagestan region, said in a video published early on Monday on the Telegram messaging app.

Mr Melikov also said that at least six “militants” were killed following the attacks.

The interior ministry, quoted by Russian news agencies, said four gunmen had been shot dead as the incidents unfolded. A local official said another had been killed during a shootout at a church in Dagestan's capital of Makhachkala, where the Orthodox priest was killed.

The reports said one officer was killed when shots were fired at a synagogue and a church in Derbent, home to an ancient Jewish community in the South Caucasus and a Unesco world heritage site.

“Unidentified people fired at a synagogue and a church with automatic weapons,” the interior ministry said. “One police officer was killed and one injured.”

The synagogue was on fire after the attack, Russian news agencies said.

Conflicting reports suggested that the attackers then fled in a car, although an unofficial channel on the Telegram messaging app, Mash, said gunmen were barricaded in a building in Derbent.

On Monday, Dagestan began three days of mourning for the dead. Flags were be lowered to half-mast and all entertainment events have been cancelled from 24 June to 26 June.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said in a statement that a Russian Orthodox Church priest and police officers were killed in the “terrorist” attacks.

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church named the priest as Nikolai Kotelnikov in a post on Telegram, saying he was “brutally murdered”.

Attack on a Jewish synagogue and an Orthodox church in Russia’s Dagestan (Supplied)
Attack on a Jewish synagogue and an Orthodox church in Russia’s Dagestan (Supplied)

At least one other police officer was killed in an exchange of shots at a police post in Makhachkala, about 75 miles north of Derbent on the Caspian Sea coast.

Mr Melikov told reporters: “We understand who is behind the organisation of the terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued.” He did not provide any more details.

In Israel, the foreign ministry said the synagogue in Derbent had been burned to the ground and shots had been fired at a second synagogue in Makhachkala. The statement said it was believed there were no worshippers in the synagogue at the time.

Derbent, located in the South Caucasus, hosts a historic Jewish community and is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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.

Between 2007 and 2017, a jihadist organisation called the Caucasus Emirate, and later the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, staged attacks in Dagestan and the neighbouring Russian republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Dagestan, bordering Georgia and Azerbaijan, is predominantly Muslim and situated in southern Russia.

In April, Russia’s FSB security service arrested four people in Dagestan suspected of involvement in the attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall venue the previous month.

More than 140 people were killed in that attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.