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Dagestan, Russia, Holds Day of Mourning06/24 06:27

   

   MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's southern region of Dagestan held the first of three 
days of mourning Monday following a rampage by Islamic militants who killed 19 
people, most of them police, and attacked houses of worship in apparently 
coordinated assaults in two cities.

   Sunday's violence in Dagestan's regional capital of Makhachkala and nearby 
Derbent was the latest that officials blamed on Islamic extremists in the 
predominantly Muslim region in the North Caucasus, as well as the deadliest in 
Russia since March, when gunmen opened fire at a concert in suburban Moscow, 
killing 145 people.

   The affiliate of the Islamic State group in Afghanistan that claimed 
responsibility for March's raid quickly praised the attack in Dagestan, saying 
it was conducted by "brothers in the Caucasus who showed that they are still 
strong."

   The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War argued that the Islamic 
State group's North Caucasus branch, Vilayat Kavkaz, likely was behind the 
attack, describing it as "complex and coordinated."

   Dagestan Gov. Sergei Melikov blamed members of Islamic "sleeper cells" 
directed from abroad, but didn't give any other details. He said in a video 
statement that the assailants aimed at "sowing panic and fear," and attempted 
to link the attack to Moscow's military action in Ukraine -- but also provided 
no evidence.

   President Vladimir Putin had sought to blame the March attack on Ukraine, 
again without evidence and despite the claim of responsibility by the Islamic 
State affiliate. Kyiv has vehemently denied any involvement.

   Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin has received reports on Sunday's 
attacks and efforts to help the victims.

   The Investigative Committee, the country's top state criminal investigation 
agency, said all five attackers were killed. Of the 19 people killed, 15 were 
police.

   Among the dead was the Rev. Nikolai Kotelnikov, a 66-year-old Russian 
Orthodox priest at a church in Derbent. The attackers slit his throat before 
setting fire to the church, according to Shamil Khadulayev, deputy head of a 
local public oversight body. The attack came as the Orthodox faithful 
celebrated Pentecost, also known as Trinity Sunday.

   The Kele-Numaz synagogue in Derbent also was set ablaze.

   Shortly after the attacks in Derbent, militants fired at a police post in 
Makhachkala and attacked a Russian Orthodox Church and a synagogue there before 
being hunted down and killed by special forces.

   Medical authorities in Dagestan said 16 people, including 13 police, were 
hospitalized with injuries, and with four officers in grave condition.

   Russian news reports said the attackers included the two sons and a nephew 
of Magomed Omarov, the head of the main Kremlin's party United Russia's 
regional branch in Dagestan. Omarov was detained by police for interrogation, 
and United Russia quickly dismissed him from its ranks.

   In the early 2000s, Dagestan saw near-daily attacks on police and other 
authorities that was blamed on militant extremists. After the emergence of the 
Islamic State group, many residents of the region joined it in Syria and Iraq.

   The violence in Dagestan has abated in recent years, but in a sign that 
extremist sentiments still run high in the region, mobs rioted at an airport 
there in October, targeting a flight from Israel. More than 20 people were hurt 
-- none of them Israelis -- when hundreds of men, some carrying banners with 
antisemitic slogans, rushed onto the tarmac, chased passengers and threw stones 
at police.

   The airport rampage challenged the Kremlin's narrative that ethnic and 
religious groups coexist in harmony in Russia.

   After March's Moscow concert hall attack, Russia's top security agency 
reported that it had broken up what it called a "terrorist cell" in southern 
Russia and arrested four of its members who had provided weapons and cash to 
suspected attackers in Moscow.

 
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