Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Russian lawmakers on Monday quickly blamed external forces, including Ukraine and NATO, for terrorist attacks on Sunday that killed at least 20 people in Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region of Russia in the North Caucasus that has long been a hotbed of violence by Islamist militants.

The gunfire attacks on Sunday — at a police post, a synagogue and Orthodox churches in the regional capital of Makhachkala and a second city, Derbent — killed at least 17 police officers and an Orthodox priest, authorities said.

Pro-Kremlin media appeared to play down a claim from Al Azaim Media, a Russian-language channel associated with the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, which posted a statement late Sunday that the attack was carried out in response to calls for attacks on behalf of the Islamic State organization, or ISIS.

Dagestan governor Sergei Melikov said that six suspects were killed during the operation.


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“Our recent call did not keep us waiting long,” the Al Azaim post said. “Our brothers from the Caucasus let us know that they are still strong. They showed what they are capable of.”

Dagestan has experienced some unrest apparently tied to Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza.

In October, hundreds of people stormed the Makhachkala airport in search of Jewish air passengers arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv.

At the time, Russian Foreign Ministry officials claimed without evidence that Ukraine played “a direct and key role” in the October airport riot, calling it a “provocation” orchestrated from outside Russia.

In March, gunmen with alleged ties to the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, attacked the Crocus City Hall concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow, killing 145 people. At the time, Russian security officials also implicated Ukraine, and the Kremlin disputed Washington’s account that U.S. intelligence had shared a specific warning ahead of that attack.

While Russia’s deadly war in Ukraine overshadows virtually all other events in Russia these days, some officials cautioned against seeing Kyiv’s hand in every incident.

If every terrorist attack is “blamed on the intrigues of Ukraine and NATO, this pink fog will lead us to big problems,” Russian senator Dmitry Rogozin said.

On Sunday, gunmen opened fire at several locations in the two cities, including the Church of Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Derbent, where a priest, Nikolai Kotelnikov, 66, was killed. They also attacked the city’s only synagogue, which was apparently empty at the time.

But even before local and national law enforcement had gained control over the violence on Sunday, officials were already blaming the United States and Ukraine.

A local lawmaker, Abdulkarim Gadzhiev, blamed Sunday’s attack on “the special services of Ukraine and NATO countries.” The pro-Kremlin head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Leonid Slutsky, who heads the foreign affairs committee in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, blamed “outside forces” aiming to divide Russians and “sow panic.”

Valentina Matviyenko, the head of the Federation Council, the upper chamber, called the attacks “a tragedy” planned outside Russia.

“The tragedy in Dagestan is an absolutely cynical and carefully planned provocation from abroad,” Matviyenko said, adding that Russian security agencies would identify those behind the attacks and swiftly “clean out extremist cells.”

A local official, Magomed Omarov, head of the Sergokala district of Dagestan, was arrested after two of his sons allegedly took part in the attacks. Both were killed by law enforcement officials.

The head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, called for a full inquiry into Sunday’s attacks. The Investigative Committee said the assailants have been identified, according to Tass, a state news agency.

More than two dozen others were injured in the attacks, which appeared to be coordinated.

Russia has experienced intermittent attacks by declared affiliates of ISIS.

Earlier this month, two prisoners who pledged allegiance to ISIS took two prison guards hostage at a detention center in Russia’s southern Rostov region. Russian authorities ended the prison siege quickly, killing the hostage-takers and freeing the captives.

In previous years, thousands of Dagestanis left Russia to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — an exodus apparently encouraged by the Kremlin. However, hundreds ultimately were brought back to serve prison sentences after ISIS was defeated by a U.S.-led coalition.

The Islamic State has continued to claim attacks inside Russia, including a deadly assault on a popular Moscow concert venue in March. At least 137 people were killed in the worst terrorist attack to hit the country in 20 years.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday rejected a suggestion that Islamist militancy could be surging in Dagestan. “Society is consolidated, and the kind of criminal behavior that we saw yesterday in Dagestan is not supported by society, either in Russia or in Dagestan,” Peskov said.

In a further sign of deep tensions between Moscow and Washington, several Russian officials including the deputy head of the Security Council, former president Dmitry Medvedev, linked the Dagestan attack to a Ukrainian missile strike Sunday on occupied Crimea, which killed four civilians including two children.

Peskov accused the United States on Monday of being responsible for the attack on Crimea, saying that this “must have consequences.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defense reported that it shot down five Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles supplied to Ukraine by the United States. It said the missiles were fired at Crimea on Sunday.

The ministry said one of the missiles exploded over the city of Sevastopol after deviating from its flight path when it was intercepted by Russian air defenses.

Without providing evidence, the Defense Ministry claimed that all ATACMS targets are determined by the U.S. military.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Monday summoned U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy to register a formal complaint about “the targeted Ukrainian missile strike on Sevastopol that caused numerous casualties, including children.”

Peskov described the Crimea attack as “absolutely barbaric” and blamed the United States and Europe.

“Just last week, the president repeatedly spoke about who is pointing technologically sophisticated missiles at targets, that it is not Ukrainians,” Peskov said. “It’s clear who provides these launches.”

He called on journalists to “ask my colleagues in Europe, and in Washington in particular, ask press secretaries why their governments are killing Russian children. Just ask them this simple question.”

Peskov, speaking in his daily conference call with journalists, did not comment on what actions Russia would take, but he pointed to earlier threats from President Vladimir Putin to supply missiles to nations unfriendly to the United States.

Peskov said Russia is revising its nuclear doctrine — which currently states that Russia may use nuclear weapons if its existence is threatened or in retaliation for a nuclear attack — to account for “today’s realities.”

Last week, while visiting North Korea and Vietnam, Putin said Moscow was “thinking about” revising the doctrine. Putin also threatened to supply Russian arms to North Korea in retaliation for Western arms supplies to Ukraine.

The West “supplies weapons to Ukraine, saying: ‘We are not in control here, so the way Ukraine uses them is none of our business,’” Putin said. “Why shouldn’t we adopt the same position and say that we supply something to somebody but have no control over what happens afterward? Let them think about it.”

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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