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Nineteen Killed in Terrorist Attacks on Churches in Dagestan

State of the Union: The attack recalls the Wahhabist violence in the Caucuses of the 1990s and 2000s.
Orthodox Cathedral in Dagestan
Credit: Magomedova Kariyat/Wikimedia Commons

On Sunday, June 23, Islamic extremists launched coordinated attacks on churches across Russia’s Muslim-majority Republic of Dagestan, killing 19 people. Included among the dead is an 66-year-old Orthodox priest, Fr. Nikolai Kotelnikov, who was killed in Derbent when terrorists armed with automatic weapons entered his church and set fire to an icon.

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In the city of Makhachkala, gunmen attacked a traffic police station and the Assumption Cathedral. The terrorists also set fire to a synagogue in Derbent.

These attacks on Christian and Jewish places of worship follow recent bouts of Islamic extremism across Russia. In March, IS-affiliated Tajiks killed over 140 in an attack on a concert in Moscow, and in October, a mob waving Palestinian flags rampaged through Makhachkala’s airport looking for Jews on a flight to Tel Aviv. Dagestan saw similar terror attacks around the time of the second Chechen War, after the Chechen leader Shamil Basayev led fighters in support of Dagestani Wahhabists in 1999. 

Sergei Melikov, the leader of Dagestan, has announced that June 24 through 26 will be days of mourning, and that the attack was an “attempt to cleave apart our unity” (between Muslims, Christians, and Jews).  

Putin’s Russia has maintained a complicated relationship with Islam. Since taking power, Putin has worked to include Muslims in Russian society, emphasizing Russia’s “multiethnic and multifaith history,” giving speeches in Tatar, and joining the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as an observer state. Migration from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, however, have slowly altered Russia’s Muslim population, as radical ideologies are prevalent in those nations.