Priest, at least 6 police officers killed after gunmen attack synagogue and church in Russia, reports say

Priest, at least 6 police officers killed after gunmen attack synagogue and church in Russia, reports say

A synagogue, an Orthodox church and a police post were targeted by gunmen in a coordinated series of attacks in Russia’s southernmost Dagestan province on Sunday night. Local reports citing the province’s interior ministry said at least six police officers have been killed and at least 12 others wounded.

A 66-year-old Russian Orthodox priest was also killed in the attacks, the spokeswoman for Dagestan’s interior ministry, Gayana Gariyeva, told RIA Novosti. 

The attacks took place in Dagestan’s largest city, Makhachkala, and in the coastal city of Derbent.

Russia’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee described the attacks in the predominantly Muslim region with a history of armed militancy as terrorist acts.

Dagestan’s Interior Ministry said a group of armed men shot at a synagogue and a church in the city of Derbent, located on the Caspian Sea. Both the church and the synagogue caught fire, according to state media. Almost simultaneously, reports appeared about an attack on a church and a traffic police post in the Dagestan capital Makhachkala.

The authorities announced a counter-terrorist operation in the region. The Anti-Terrorist Committee said a priest and policemen were killed in the attacks. It later reported that five gunmen were “eliminated.” It wasn’t clear, however, how many militants were involved in the attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. The authorities have launched a criminal probe on the charge of a terrorist act.

Russia Dagestan Attacks
This photo taken from video released by Golos Dagestana shows smoke rising following an attack in Makhachkala, republic of Dagestan, Russia, on June 23, 2024.

Golos Dagestana via AP

The attackers reportedly fled in a car. Two of the gunmen had reportedly been killed as of Sunday afternoon. 

In Makhachkala, which is about 75 miles to the north along the Caspian Sea coast, a second police officer was killed in an exchange of shots at a police post, local media reported.

Borush Gorin, the chairman of the public council of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, wrote on Telegram that the synagogue in Makhachkala was also set on fire, AFP reported.

While was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but some officials in Dagestan blamed Ukraine and NATO.

“There is no doubt that these terrorist attacks are in one way or another connected with the intelligence services of Ukraine and NATO countries,” Dagestan lawmaker Abdulkhakim Gadzhiyev wrote on Telegram, according to the Associated Press.

Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on the attacks.

“What happened looks like a vile provocation and an attempt to cause discord between confessions,” President Ramzan Kadyrov of neighboring Chechnya said, AP reported.

Dagestan is a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia bordering Georgia and Azerbaijan. Derbent is home to an ancient Jewish community in the South Caucasus and a UNESCO world heritage site, Reuters reported.

—The Associated Press contributed reporting.