24 June 2024

Priest among those killed in attacks on church, synagogue and police in Dagestan

A prolonged attack in several locations on 23 June led to 19 people being killed, including an Orthodox priest who had been commemorating Pentecost.

At least 19 people have been killed in attacks on religious sites and police in Dagestan (illustrative image)

Coordinated attacks on 23 June have left 19 people killed, including a priest, in Dagestan, a republic of Russia in the North Caucasus region.

At about 6 o’clock, a group of armed men attacked an Orthodox church in Derbent; at the same time, another Orthodox church and synagogue were attacked in the republic’s capital, Makhachkala. A police post in the capital was also shelled.

Long-serving priest killed

In the attack on the church in Derbent, the priest Nikolai Kotelnikov and a church watchman were killed. Kotelnikov had served the church for more than 40 years. Sunday was a special day in the Orthodox church calendar: the community was celebrating Pentecost.

At the synagogue in Makhachkala, the assailants set the building on fire. Shooting was also reported in the village of Sergokala, located 40 miles south of Makhachkala. During the attack, 19 people – the priest and parishioners – barricaded themselves in the church. They were later evacuated by the police.

The attack lasted several hours in the different locations. At least 15 police officers were killed, and another 25 wounded. Eventually, the ordeal ended and five of the attackers were killed, with another six incapacitated by police.

Sergei Melikov, the republic’s head, has declared 24-26 June as three days of mourning in Dagestan.

Christians are a small minority in Dagestan

The assailants have yet to be identified, and the motive behind the attacks has not been publicly confirmed though, according to the BBC, Melikov stated in a video on Telegram, “We understand who is behind the organisation of the terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued.” The BBC notes, “Dagestan has in the past been the scene of Islamic attacks.”

About 95% of the population of Dagestan is Muslim. There are approximately 140,000 Christians in the region, from denominations including Orthodox, Armenian-Gregorian and Protestant.

An Open Doors spokesperson says, “This is another attack on the freedom of religion in this violent area. The Orthodox Church is a target. Please pray for the situation in Dagestan, and for all Christian believers there. Pray for the safety of the believers and for the secure opportunity to practise their faith.”

  • For all who are mourning to be comforted, and for the church community to seek and find God’s loving guidance
  • That all who are injured would quickly heal from their injuries and trauma
  • For protection from future attack in Dagestan, and for safe opportunities for believers to gather and worship.
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