Islamic State claims church shooting in Dagestan

A gunman opened fire at an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, a town in Dagestan, earlier today. At least five people were killed and four others wounded. The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility via Amaq News Agency, one of its propaganda arms.

Citing a “security source,” Amaq reported that the “armed attack that targeted the Christian church in Kizlyar city in Dagestan, and resulted in 5 being killed and 4 being wounded, was carried out by a soldier of the Islamic State.”

The Islamic State followed up with another statement, identifying the shooter by his alleged alias, “Khalil ad-Dagestani.”

“Putting his trust in Allah, one of the zealous soldiers of Islam, Khalil ad-Dagestani (may Allah accept him) set out towards the Christian temple of George in Kizlyar city in Dagestan,” the statement reads. “He targeted the Crusaders with his rifle, killing 5 of them and wounding 4 others, and to Allah belongs all honor, and to His messenger, and to the believers, but the hypocrites don’t know, and all praise is due to Allah.”

Russian authorities said the attacker was a local man and that a criminal investigation has been opened.

“The shooter has been identified as Khalil Khalilov, 22, a resident of the Rassvet settlement located in the Tarumovsky District of Dagestan,” the office of Kizlyar’s mayor stated, according to TASS (a media arm of the Kremlin). TASS added that the victims included “police and National Guard officers,” while Khalilov was shot dead as he attempted to flee the scene.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, said those “linked” to Khalilov “deserve to be severely punished,” but didn’t offer any details concerning his accomplices.

“One can say with certainty that the bandit and his patrons, in case he had any, do not have any direct or indirect connection to Islam,” Kadyrov said, according to TASS. Kadyrov added: “The North Caucasus has always been a region of close cooperation and mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians. So today, it is our duty to deter assaults on our heritage that instigators and Russia’s enemies may make.”

According to BBC News, an Orthodox priest told a Russian news outlet that the assailant shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he charged churchgoers after mass.

As FDD’s Long War Journal has reported in the past, it is often difficult to verify jihadist claims after operations are conducted inside Russia. Independent reporting is limited and the Russian government is generally not forthcoming with information.

One way the Islamic State has proven its ties to operations in Russia is by releasing videos of the terrorists swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi prior to their attacks. The videos demonstrate that the so-called caliphate has digital connections, at the very least, to the men. Amaq News Agency and other propaganda outlets have disseminated such footage after small-scale assaults in Russia, as well as elsewhere.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a string of operations in Russia since the group announced the creation of its Caucasus “province” in June 2015. Only some of the claims have been backed up by videos of the perpetrators swearing their fealty to Baghdadi.

In Mar. 2016, the Islamic State’s Caucasus “province” said its men conducted two attacks in Dagestan, claiming that the jihadists had detonated “two explosive devices” on Russian Army vehicles “in the area of Kaspiysk in eastern Dagestan.” Russian officials blamed members of a “gang” and said they were investigating whether this group had “sworn allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist organization.”

The Russians also did not immediately credit the jihadists with an Aug. 2016 attack on police in Balashikha, which is east of Moscow. Amaq quickly released a claim of responsibility after that shooting. Leaving little doubt about the identity of the perpetrators, Amaq also disseminated a short video of two jihadists pledging their loyalty to Baghdadi. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report: Jihadists who attacked Russian police appear in Islamic State video.]

In Apr. 2017, Amaq News reported that an Islamic State “fighter” was the gunman who opened fire at a local office of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of Khabarovsk. At least two people were killed. However, the Russian government claimed the shooter was a far right neo-Nazi.

In Aug. 2017, a young man went on a stabbing rampage in the Russian city of Surgat. Eight people were wounded before the slasher was shot and killed by authorities. Amaq News Agency said the stabbings were carried out by one of the caliphate’s “soldiers” in “response to calls to target citizens of the Crusader nation coalition.” Within days, the Islamic State provided more evidence connecting the perpetrator to the so-called caliphate. Furat media (another of the group’s propaganda arms) released a video of him swearing allegiance to Baghdadi. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Russian terrorist swore allegiance to Baghdadi before stabbing assault.]

The Islamic State also claimed that a “covert unit” or “detachment” connected to the organization carried out a Dec. 2017 bombing at a supermarket in St. Petersburg, Russia. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin deemed the bombing an act of “terrorism,” other Russian statements pinned responsibility on a psychiatric patient who allegedly belonged to another organization.

Baghdadi’s jihadists have fought the Russians in Syria, where they’ve downed Russian helicopters. On Oct. 31, 2015, the self-declared caliphate’s Sinai “province” also blew up a Russian airliner after it departed from the Sharm El Sheikh International Airport, killing all 224 people on board. The jihadists claimed to have used a simple improvised explosive device to down the jetliner.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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