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At least nine dead, 25 injured as gunmen attack places of worship in Russia’s Dagestan


By Darya Tarasova, Jen Deaton and Mariya Knight, CNN

(CNN) — At least nine people have been killed and 25 injured in what appear to be coordinated attacks by gunmen in Russia’s southernmost Dagestan province, local authorities say.

Attacks have been reported at multiple places of worship and a police traffic stop in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala, which are about 120km (75 miles) apart.

Among the dead are seven law enforcement officers, a priest and a church security guard, according to local authorities. One of the law enforcement officers killed was the head of the “Dagestan Lights” police department, Mavludin Khidirnabiev, according to the Dagestan Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Telegram channel.

Four “militants” have also been killed, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

No group has yet claimed responsibility, but law enforcement agencies told TASS that the attackers are “adherents of an international terrorist organization.”

Dagestan Public Monitoring Commission Chairman Shamil Khadulaev said the priest who was killed was called Father Nikolay. “They slit his throat. He was 66-years-old and very ill,” Khadulaev said.

He added that a security guard armed with only a pistol was shot.

Nighttime video, shared by the Republic of Dagestan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, showed at least a dozen law enforcement officers – who appear to be armed and wearing tactical gear – outside the gates of a cathedral in northwestern Makhachkala. CNN has geolocated the video to the gates of Svyato-Uspenskiy Sobor, a Russian Orthodox venue in Makhachkala.

Earlier on Sunday, Russian state media TASS reported that a security guard was killed in a shootout at Svyato-Uspenskiy Sobor, and 19 people had locked themselves inside the premises during the attack. While it is unclear if the standoff has fully ended, those who had holed up there have since been evacuated to safety, TASS reported, citing the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Dagestan.

Meanwhile, two synagogues in Dagestan – one in Derbent and one in Makhachkala – were attacked, according to a statement from the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC).

The attack on the synagogue in Derbent happened 40 minutes after evening prayer, according to the RJC. Attackers “set the building on fire using Molotov cocktails,” while police and security guards were killed outside during the attack, it said.

Photos showing large flames and plumes of smoke billowing heavily out of a series of windows on at least one floor of the structure.

“The exact number of dead and wounded is being clarified,” the RJC added. The organization added that it will “take part in the restoration of synagogues and provide assistance to the families of the victims.”

The Israeli foreign ministry said the Derbent synagogue had “burned to the ground” and that local guards had been killed, while the synagogue in Makhachkala had been attacked by gunfire.

“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.

Security guards had been placed outside of local synagogues ever since an antisemitic mob stormed through the local airport in October.

An attack was also reported at a police traffic post in Makhachkala.

The head of the Dagestan Republic, Sergey Melikov, has issued a message on Telegram saying that “unknown persons made attempts to destabilize the social situation. Dagestan police officers stood in their way. According to preliminary information, there are victims among them.”

Melikov said the identities of the attackers are being established, an operational headquarters has been set up and a counter-operation “Interception” is underway.

He urged the public to remain calm, saying “Panic and fear are what they were counting on in … They won’t get this from Dagestanis!”

The Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the Republic of Dagestan said it had launched a terror investigation into the attacks under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

“All the circumstances of the incident and the persons involved in the terrorist attacks are being established, and their actions will be given a legal assessment,” the investigative directorate statement reads.

This is a developing story and is being updated.

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