Gunmen Kill at Least 6 at Synagogue and Churches in Russian Republic

Gunmen Kill at Least 6 at Synagogue and Churches in Russian Republic

At least six police officers and a priest were killed in attacks in two cities in Russia’s southern republic of Dagestan after gunmen opened fire on Sunday at a synagogue, at least two churches and a police post, the local interior ministry said.

At least a dozen police officers were wounded in two seemingly coordinated attacks, Russian state news agencies reported, citing local law enforcement officials. The shootings occurred in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala, and Derbent, a city on the border with Azerbaijan.

As of Sunday evening, it was unclear how the casualty count split across the two cities, but Derbent police officials said that gunmen opened fire at a synagogue and a church, killing at least one police officer and wounding another. Vladimir Legoida, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, said in a Telegram post that Nikolai Kotelnikov, a local priest who had served in the church for 40 years, was killed in the attack.

Russian state news agencies posted videos of the Derbent synagogue engulfed in flames. In a statement, the local police said that the synagogue and the church had been “burned down.”

In Makhachkala, a sprawling city on the Caspian Sea, gunmen opened fire on a street that is also home to a local synagogue. The synagogue was also attacked, according to RIA Novosti, a Russian state news agency, citing Jewish religious organizations. Its rabbi told RIA Novosti that no one was injured in the assault.

According to videos posted by Dagestan’s Ministry of Interior, gunmen were on the loose in the city, opening fire and forcing people out of their cars.

The Russian Investigative Committee, the country’s equivalent to the F.B.I., said it had opened a terrorism investigation.

Dagestan is a predominantly Muslim republic that is also home to a Jewish population, and it has experienced a heightened level of violence for at least three decades. But ethnic and religious tensions in the republic have worsened since the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip broke out in October.

That month an angry mob stormed an airport in Makhachkala searching for Jewish passengers on a flight from Israel. The episode shocked Jews in Russia and drew condemnation from the Israeli government.

Sergei Melikov, the head of Dagestan, said in a statement that Sunday’s attacks appeared aimed at “destabilizing the public situation.”

At least four of the gunmen were killed by law enforcement officers, the local police said. With some of the gunmen still at large, the police said they had blocked entrances to Makhachkala.

At least two of the attackers were detained by the police, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing law enforcement officials. Neither the number of attackers nor their identities were immediately disclosed.

The shootings came only months after four terrorists attacked a major concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, killing 145 people in a shooting rampage and fire. The Islamic State claimed responsibility; American officials have attributed the assault to ISIS-K, a branch of the group.

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