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Major terror attack against Christians and Jews in Dagestan, at least 16 people killed

Churches and synagogues were set on fire

An Orthodox priest, Father Nikolay Kotelnikov, who was murdered by assailants after breaking into a church in Derbent, Dagestan, Russia, June 23, 2024 (Photo: Screenshot)

A major terror attack targeting Jewish synagogues and Orthodox churches took place on Sunday in the Muslim-majority Republic of Dagestan, located in the North Caucasus region of Russia along the Caspian Sea. Terrorists killed at least 15 police officers and several civilians, according to reports.

The attacks, which appeared to be coordinated, were reportedly carried out against two synagogues and two churches in Derbent and Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, cities that lie about 120 kilometers (75 miles) apart. Derbent is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to an ancient Jewish community.

“Armed militants attacked two Orthodox churches, two synagogues and police officers,” Russia’s National Antiterrorist Committee (NAC) announced on Monday, adding that the counter-terrorism operation in Makhachkala and Derbent had ended.

According to Dagestan Governor Sergei Melikov, six gunmen were eliminated. He suggested that “sleeper cells” and foreign forces played a role in the attacks.

“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,” Melikov said.

Nikolai Kotelnikov, an archpriest in the Russian Orthodox Church, was among the victims killed in the attack.

Churches and synagogues were reportedly set on fire using Molotov cocktails, while police and security guards were fired upon by gunmen in both cities. The Derbent synagogue was attacked about 40 minutes before evening prayers but was empty at the time. Rabbi Rami Davidovi of Makhachkala said that nobody from the Jewish community was killed or injured there, but confirmed that the synagogues were destroyed.

“The synagogue in Derbent is on fire. It has not been possible to extinguish the fire,” the chairman of the public council of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin, wrote on Telegram. “The synagogue in Makhachkala has also been set on fire and burnt down.”

According to Russian state media, the church next to the synagogue in Derbent was also set on fire. Firefighters had reportedly been told to leave the burning synagogue because of the risk that “terrorists remained inside.”

No organization claimed responsibility for the attacks, however, the Dagestan governor said that “whichever forces lies behind these disgusting actions,” would be punished.

“We understand who is behind the organization of the terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued,” he said.

Two sons of the head of central Dagestan’s Sergokala District were detained for questioning regarding the attack, Russian state media reported.

In 2015, the Islamic State (ISIS) announced it had established a “franchise” in the North Caucasus. Several terrorists from Dagestan joined in Syria at the time.

The terror attack comes 8 months after Hamas supporters stormed the Makhachkala Uytash Airport at the end of October, waving Palestinian flags and shouting “Allahu Akbar.” The rioting mob roamed the airport terminal searching for Jews to kill, forcing an incoming flight from Tel Aviv to redirect to a nearby airport out of concern for passengers’ lives. Once the flight landed, a lynch mob surrounded the flight. 

“We came for the Jews – to kill them with a knife and shoot them,” a rioter said in one of the videos circulating online at the time.

Earlier that day, a Jewish center under construction in Dagestan was set on fire, with the words, “Death to the Jews,” written on the walls. 

Dagestan is home to a small Christian minority and an even smaller Jewish one. More than 90% of the population is Muslim.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jewish population in Dagestan has dramatically decreased from 50,000 to fewer than 10,000 in recent years, with many relocating to Israel, the United States or other parts of Russia.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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