Places of worship attacked in Russia’s Dagestan; priest, seven security personnel killed (Lead)

Moscow, July 23 (IANS) Two Orthodox churches, a synagogue, and a traffic police station in Russia’s Dagestan region were attacked on Sunday, leaving a priest and at least seven security personnel, including six local policemen, dead, reports said.

A counter-terrorism operation has been launched in Dagestan in response to the attacks as an exchange of fire is still underway at some of the sites, some of which are in flames too, RT reported.

The attacks took place in Makhachkala, the regional capital, as well as the city of Derbent. Russian authorities have termed the attackers members of an “international terrorist organisation”, but did not provide any further details.

While earlier reports said that unidentified assailants opened fire on the religious buildings in Makachkala with automatic firearms before fleeing the scene in a vehicle, intense fighting was reported near the church in Makhachkala, as per RIA Novosti. Local media reports said some 40 people are being held hostage inside, but authorities have not confirmed this yet.

A traffic police station in the centre of Makhachkala was also attacked, causing several casualties among police officials.

The police fatalities were reported from both Makhachkala and Derbent.

A 66-year-old Orthodox priest was killed in the attack on the church in Derbent. Earlier, a local public official claimed that the attackers had slit his throat.

The synagogue in Derbent was also set ablaze and firefighters have been called away from it since it is feared that attackers could still be inside with gunfire still heard near the building, according to RIA Novosti.

The attack on the police officers in Derbent was caught on video and shared on social media. Loud gunfire can be heard in the clip, with several police cars seen parked down the street, as law enforcement officers retaliated against the assailants.

Gunfire could still be heard in central Derbent, according to witnesses. Local law enforcement officers were reportedly still engaged in a fight against the attackers near the Orthodox church.

Local Muslim leaders have condemned the attacks. North Caucasus Muslim Coordination Council chief termed the assailants “brutal and hateful beasts”, while Chechen Republic chief Ramzan Kadyrov termed the attacks a “villainous provocation” aimed at sowing discord between religions.

–IANS

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