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At least 15 dead in attacks on Dagestan synagogues, churches

The region's last synagogue was burned down • There were no known Jewish casualties, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

The city of Makhachkala in Russia's Muslim-majority Dagestan Republic, April 14, 2022. Credit: Alexander Novikov/Wikimedia Commons.
The city of Makhachkala in Russia's Muslim-majority Dagestan Republic, April 14, 2022. Credit: Alexander Novikov/Wikimedia Commons.

More than 15 police officers, and several civilians, were killed by terrorists in southern Russia’s Republic of Dagestan on Sunday, authorities said early Monday.

Dagestan’s Interior Ministry confirmed that gunmen had opened fire at a synagogue and a church in the coastal city of Derbent. The state-run RIA Novosti outlet reported that both buildings caught fire, adding that the synagogue, one of the last in Dagestan, burned down.

At the Orthodox church, a priest was killed. Father Nikolai Kotelnikov reportedly had his throat slit before the church was set on fire.

Parallel to the attacks in Derbent, reports appeared about attacks on a church and a traffic police post in the capital, Makhachkala, as well as a shooting targeting a police vehicle in the town of Sergokala.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee described the incidents in the country’s predominantly Muslim region as terrorist acts, with authorities announcing the elimination of five or six terrorists.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shootings. State news agency Tass cited law enforcement sources as saying that a local official was arrested over his son’s alleged involvement in the attacks.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry referred to “a combined attack” in a statement. “As far as is known, there were no worshipers in the synagogues at the time of the attack, and there are no known casualties from the Jewish community,” the ministry said in a statement, according to CNN.

In the month following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 people in Israel, a flight from Tel Aviv to Dagestan was forced to divert after rioters stormed Makhachkala Uytash Airport, seeking to lynch Jewish travelers.

Law enforcement officers patrol outside the airport in Makhachkala on October 30, 2023. Russian police said they had arrested 60 people suspected of storming an airport in the Muslim-majority Caucasus republic of Dagestan, seeking to attack Jewish passengers coming from Israel. Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images.

Hundreds of Russian Muslims overran the airport, with video footage showing rioters with Palestinian flags shouting Allahu akbar (“God is great”) as they searched the terminals for Israeli passengers.

Other videos showed Muslim protesters stopping vehicles in the area to ask motorists if they were transporting Israelis. “We came for the Jews—to kill them with a knife and shoot them,” one was quoted as saying.

Some 80 people were detained following the incident out of 150 suspects after more than 20 people were injured during the riot, including nine police officers, two of whom were hospitalized.

In the wake of the lynch mob, Israel’s Foreign Ministry and National Security Council warned Israeli citizens against traveling to a number of Russian republics and regions in the North Caucasus, raising the threat level to four, the highest level. The announcement from Jerusalem also called on all Israelis in those areas to leave as soon as possible.

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