Event in Review: Terrorist attacks in Dagestan targeting religious institutions (Jun 24)

This review article rounds up all the key information on the 23 June 2024 terrorist attacks in Dagestan, which targeted synagogues, churches, and the police in Derbent and Makhachkala.

Dagestan head Sergey Melikov
Dagestan Head Sergey Melikov claimed the authorities would keep searching for other members of ‘sleeper cells’ in the republic

On 23 June 2024, armed men carried out simultaneous attacks in Derbent and Makhachkala, attacking churches, synagogues, and police units. This roundup covers all the details of the event that are currently known.

What happened in Dagestan?

On the evening of 23 June, armed men carried out simultaneous terrorist attacks in Dagestan: one group attacked an Orthodox church and a synagogue in Derbent, and another an Orthodox church, a synagogue, and a traffic police post in Makhachkala (1). An estimated 17 people were killed and 25 injured (4).

The attack on the synagogue in Derbent occurred shortly before evening prayers were due to begin. Two men armed with automatic weapons reportedly opened fire on the synagogue and the church before being killed by police. According to Kommersant’s account, armed men then opened fire on a police investigative unit, set fire to the synagogue, and attacked the church. Police forced them to retreat to a local house and exchanged fire with them for several hours. The clashes were over by 11pm, when police declared an end to the active phase of the counterterrorism operation (1, 4).

The attack in Makachkala occurred almost simultaneously as the one in Derbent. Video footage from social media showed men armed with assault rifles exchanging fire with police (1).

The attacks were the first in Dagestan since May 2023, when police killed two young people who allegedly resisted arrest in Tsysha, Kulinskiy Rayon (5).

Where did the attack happen?

The attack in Derbent took place on the Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Orthodox Church on Ulitsa Lenina and the Kele-Numaz Synagogue on Ulitsa Tagi-Zade (1).

The attack in Makhachkala took place at a police post on Ulitsa Yermoshkina, a synagogue at the same location, and at the Holy Assumption Cathedral on Ulitsa Ordzhonikidze (1).

How many people were hurt in the terrorist attacks in Dagestan?

Kommersant reported that 15 law enforcement personnel, a priest and a security guard had been killed, with a further 25 people injured. In addition, six attackers were also killed (4). The distribution of victims across the two attacks has not been fully clarified.

Dagestan Head Sergey Melikov also claimed that six militants were killed in the attack, with 15 law enforcement personnel and several citizens also killed (9). The Investigative Committee later clarified that 15 security service personnel and four civilians were killed, including the Orthodox priest (16). The priest was reportedly executed — sources claimed he had his throat cut and was a target of the attack (12). The Dagestani Ministry of Health reported that 20 people had been killed and 46 injured in the attack, but a wounded policemen and a wounded civilian subsequently died in hospital, bringing the death toll to 22 (19, 26).

Security at synagogues in Dagestan has been increased since violence at Makhachkala airport in October 2023, when local mobs stormed the airport to prevent a plane from Tel-Aviv from disembarking. According to the Russian Jewish Congress, this meant that the police in Derbent took the brunt of the assault (1).

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Who carried out the terrorist attacks in Dagestan?

Reporting on how many people were involved in the attack was contradictory. Dagestani officials claimed that six attackers were killed: two in Derbent and four in Makhachkala (1, 9). Kommersant used the same figure, but its narrative reporting on how events unfolded claimed that police in Derbent were attacked, and armed clashes continued, after the two people had been killed (4). The National Antiterrorism Committee, however, reported that five suspected militants had been killed: two in Derbent, three in Makhachkala (10). The Investigative Committee also reported five attackers killed (25).

Interfax, citing a police source, reported two detentions at the beach in Makhackhala (1). It was unclear how many additional detentions there were, but Sergokalinskiy Rayon Head Magomed Omarov was taken in for questioning. The Telegram channel Baza and business daily Kommersant both reported that two of Magomed’s sons, 31-year-old Osman Omarov and 37-year-old Adil Omarov, participated in the attack and were both killed; his nephews, 32-year-old Abdusamad Amadziyev and Ali Zakarigayev (the nephew of his wife) were also reportedly among the attackers (1, 3, 18, 25). Osman Omarov was allegedly the leader of the group (27). The final attacker was identified as 28-year-old former mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Gadzhimurad Kagirov, the nephew of former Makhachkala mayor Musa Musayev (25).

Baza reported that Magomed had admitted that he knew several of his eight sons and a nephew were Salafis (“Wahhabis”), but also claimed that he had not had any contact with them for several years (2). At least 12 of Magomed’s relatives, including six sons, were reportedly detained in the aftermath of the attacks (29). The local branch of the ruling United Russia party consequently expelled Magomed for “discrediting” the party (3), and also appeared to remove his profile from their website (12).

Several of the attackers were reportedly on police databases for connections to extremists (12).

The Sovetskiy District Court in Makhachkala arrested a man for two months on charges of aiding attackers. Investigators allege that the man — identified only as K. — helped plan the attack and promised to assist its implementation in Derbent, but did not directly participate and refused to pledge an oath of allegiance to Osman Omarov (27, 28).

A Dagestani court also arrested three Dagestani men, accusing Magomed Magomedov, Khalid Magomedov, and Zaur Magomedov of preparing the weapons used in the attacks (30).

Who claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Dagestan?

As of 3pm on 28 June, no one had officially claimed responsibility. ‘Official’ claims of responsibility, however, can sometimes take several days to appear.

The Al-Azaim media group, connected with the Islamic State, praised the attack, withoug making such a claim. IS’ Wilayah Khorasan said the attack was a response to their calls for such attacks and “our brothers from the Caucasus let it be known that they are strong, they showed what they are capable of” (2, 17).

Investigators claim that Osman Omarov was driven by “motives of national and religious hatred” (28).

How did the authorities respond?

The initial response to the terrorist attacks in Dagestan

The security services immediately launched the Perekhvat (Intercept) plan and imposed a counterterrorist operation (kontrterroristicheskya operatsiya, KTO) on the entire territory of Dagestan (1).

Russia’s Investigate Committee opened a criminal case under Article 205 of the Russian Criminal Code (14).

Officials blame various external forces for attempting to stoke religious discord

Dagestan Head Sergey Melikov claimed that the attackers aimed to spread “panic and fear” in the republic (4). Later, he insisted “we understand who is behind the organisation of terrorist attacks and what goal they pursued,” without offering further details. He also asserted that “Operational search and investigative activities will be carried out until all participants in the ‘sleeper cells’ are identified” (11). Addressing Dagestan’s People Assembly, Melikov accused some officials of effectively falling asleep on the job and said that local officials would be audited (22). Melikov removed Magomed Omarov from his post as Sergokalinskiy Rayon head (16), while a local court arrested him for 10 days on charges of petty hooliganism (18).

Dagestani Prime Minister Abdulmuslim Abdulmuslimov similarly characterised the attack as an “attempt to weaken the existing consolidation of society on the territory of multinational and multi-religious Dagestan” (7). Melikov signed an order declaring three days of mourning in response (6).

Zaur Askenderov, Chairman of the People’s Assembly of Dagestan, the local parliament, claimed that “it was a well-planned action, behind which there are foreign forces that are trying to create a source of tension within our country” (8).

State Duma Deputy for Dagestan Abdulkhakim Gadzhiyev accused Ukraine and NATO countries of being behind the attack (12). Dmitriy Rogozin, who currently serves as Federation Council Senator for the occupied Zaporizhzhia Oblast, criticised the claim, insisting “if we attribute every terrorist attack involving national and religious intolerance, hatred and Russophobia to the machinations of Ukraine and NATO, then this pink mist will lead us to big problems” (13).

Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov instructed the local security services to up their efforts to prevent terrorism and religious extremism in the republic in the wake of the attacks. Following a meeting with the heads of different security bodies, he claimed radical ideologies “come from European countries” (20). He also called on the security services to punish the relatives of extremists and kill those whose relatives have killed members of the security service (23). The Chechen authorities have long practiced collective punishment, even though it is illegal under international law. Commenting on Kadyrov’s statement, Kremlin press secretary Dmitriy Peskov said “No one doubts that the fight against terrorists must be uncompromising and as tough as possible” (24).

Verstka cited anonymous sources “close to the authorities” as claiming that Russia knows that the Islamic State (IS) is responsible, but is not publicly saying so. The investigative outlet also claimed the Kremlin had recommended to politicians that they avoid labelling the attacks terrorism so as to not frighten the public; had neither instructed nor dissuaded politicians from pointing the finger at Ukraine; and would not sack any officials in the immediate aftermath to avoid the impression that such attacks influence policy. However, the authorities might consider a legislative response, such as banning the niqab, and are reviewing links between Dagestani officials and extremists (21).

Peskov rules out return to terrorist threat of the early 2000s

In response to a question from a journalist, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitriy Peskov ruled out a return to the security situation in the early 2000s, when Chechen militants carried out a major attack on Dagestan and Russia faced a serious separatist challenge. Peskov characterised Russian society as more “united” than it was then (15).


Show sources
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