Gunmen Attack Synagogues and Churches in Russian Republic

0
76
Gunmen Attack Synagogues and Churches in Russian Republic

Gunmen attacked synagogues and churches in two cities in southern Russia on Sunday, killing multiple police officers and a priest, in an apparently coordinated assault that underscored Russia’s vulnerability to extremist violence.

Officials said six of the gunmen were killed after shootouts in the two cities, Makhachkala and Derbent, in the predominantly Muslim region of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea. Wielding rifles and Molotov cocktails, they attacked a synagogue and a church in each of the two cities, according to the authorities and religious organizations.

Sergei Melikov, Dagestan’s governor, described the attack as the latest assault “on our fraternity, on our multiethnic unity.”

The precise death toll was not immediately clear. Mr. Melikov said that “more than 15 police officers fell victim to today’s terrorist attack,” without specifying how many of them were killed and how many were wounded.

The motives and identities of the gunmen were also unclear, and there was no claim of responsibility for the attack. Russia’s Investigative Committee, an analogue to the F.B.I., said it had begun a terrorism investigation.

The attack was the latest outburst of apparent extremist violence inside Russia as the country fights its war against neighboring Ukraine. Four gunmen killed 145 people at a Moscow concert hall in March in an attack for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. And in Dagestan last October, an antisemitic mob stormed a plane arriving from Tel Aviv.

In Derbent, the attackers set fire to a synagogue after shooting and killing the police officers who were guarding it, the Russian Jewish Congress said. They also killed a priest, Nikolai Kotelnikov, according to a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church. The priest was the only confirmed victim of Sunday’s attack who was not a law-enforcement officer, although Mr. Melikov said “several” civilians had been killed.

At about the same time, early Sunday evening, gunmen also opened fire on a traffic police post in Makhachkala, according to state media reports. The attackers’ targets also included Makhachkala’s Cathedral of the Assumption, according to state media reports, and a synagogue, according to the Russian Jewish Congress.

Videos posted by Dagestan’s interior ministry showed gunmen on the loose in the city of Makhachkala, opening fire and forcing people out of their cars. At one point, police said roads leading out of the city were blocked. It remained unclear late Sunday whether any gunmen remained at large, though Mr. Melikov said the “active phase” of the police response was over.

The mayhem highlighted the long-running ethnic and religious tensions in Russia, particularly in the country’s southern Caucasus region, which includes Dagestan. Patriarch Kirill I, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said it was “no coincidence” that the attack took place on the day Orthodox Christians observe Pentecost.

“We see that the enemy is not giving up on attempts to destroy interreligious peace and harmony within our society,” Kirill said in a statement.

Left unsaid was who, exactly, the enemy was. There was no comment from the Kremlin and the authorities said little about the identities of the attackers, though some state media reports said some of the gunmen may have been sons of a local official.

After the March shooting at a Moscow concert hall — Russia’s deadliest terrorist attack in 20 years — Russian officials repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that Ukraine and the West were behind the violence, even though the Islamic State claimed responsibility for it.

On Sunday, some Russian politicians also pointed a finger at the West, without evidence. Leonid Slutsky, a senior lawmaker, claimed that the attacks had “the aim of sowing panic and dividing the people of Russia” and that “the blood of the victims” was also on the hands of the United States.

The attacks were the latest incident to rattle Russia’s Jewish community, which has faced increased threats since the beginning of the war in Gaza, according to community leaders. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was in contact with Jewish community leaders in Dagestan, and that there were no known casualties among that community.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here