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Russian churches and synagogues targeted in ‘diabolic’ attack – Christian leader

A wave of apparently coordinated violence has shocked the Muslim-majority republic of Dagestan on Sunday

Russians of Jewish and Orthodox Christian faith are united in mourning people killed on Sunday in the southern republic of Dagestan, where militants targeted their places of worship. Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said perpetrators were obviously meant to incite sectarian hatred and called the intention “diabolic”.

“Everything possible must be done to prevent even the possibility of radicalization of religious life, to exclude any forms of extremism and ethnic enmity,” the Patriarch said.

The spree of violence took place in the regional capital Makhachkala and the city of Derbent, 120 km to the south along the coast of the Caspian Sea. In each city, a synagogue and an Orthodox church were targeted, presumably in coordinated strikes. In another assault, a police station came under gunfire.

The Jewish community in Dagestan, a Muslim-majority region, has been concerned for its safety after a high-profile incident last November. A crowd of people agitated through social media broke into the Makhachkala airport, expecting a flight from Tel Aviv to land there. The mob was incited by the news about the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the toll it was taking on Palestinians.

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Security has been beefed up at synagogues after that, according to The Russian Jewish Congress, a national organization. A police car was parked outside of the synagogue in Derbent, and several security guards were stationed inside.

“The officers and the guards faced the main strike of the assailants and were killed resisting them,” it said in a statement.

The gunmen had firebombs with them, which they used to set the building ablaze. The attack on the synagogue in Makhachkala followed the same pattern.

Meanwhile the attack on a Christian church in Derbent resulted in the murder of its priest, Nikolay Kotelnikov.

Both Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Jewish Congress expressed condolences to everyone affected by the tragedy. The same sentiment came from the Muftiat of Dagestan, the regional Muslim body for religious affairs, which called the attacks “monstrous in their cruelty”.

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Dagestan police have lost multiple officers over the day, though the exact circumstances of the attacks are yet to be reported by officials. By evening, the action in Derbent was declared over by the National Antiterrorism Committee, after two militants were killed there. In Makhachkala, four attackers were reported killed in firefights with the police.

There were initial claims that an Orthodox church in Makhachkala was seized by the attackers, with multiple parishioners held hostage, but later reports confirmed that people barricaded themselves in after hearing gunshots nearby.

June 24, 2024 at 03:50AM

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