An attack on an Orthodox church in Russia’s republic of Dagestan, which killed five women and injured at least four others, was designed to spark hostilities between Orthodox believers and Muslims, according to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.
The attack took place on Sunday 18 February in Kizlyar, 170 km from the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala. Police said the gunman opened fire with a hunting rifle on people attending a Maslenitsa celebration near a local church. Maslenitsa is a Christian festival marking the last days before the season of Lent.
The mayor’s office has identified the gunman responsible for the attack as Khalil Khalilov, 22, from the Tarumovsky District of Dagestan.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the attack, but there is no evidence to support this claim.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill issued a statement expressing shock at the incident: "The patriarch considers this heinous crime on the Great Lent eve as a provocation aimed at sparking hostilities against Orthodox believers and Muslims who have been living side by side in peace in the Caucasus for centuries."
Ties to extremist organisations
An unnamed law-enforcement source was earlier quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying the gunman was a 22-year-old local man suspected of having ties to ‘extremist’ organisations.
Other reports said the shooter was accompanied by a woman, who fled the scene.
RBK quotes a local priest as saying the attacker opened fire as worshippers were leaving an afternoon service. "We had finished the mass and were beginning to leave the church," Father Pavel was quoted as saying. "A bearded man ran toward the church shouting 'Allahu Akbar' and killed the people."
The Investigative Committee has opened a probe into the shooting.
Source: Radio Free Europe
- For comfort for the people of Kizlyar, particularly for those who are bereaved or injured
- That attempts to provoke hostility between the Muslim and Christian community will not succeed, and that the two groups will continue to live together peacefully.