NewsDagestan attacks highlight growing Islamic State influence

Dagestan attacks highlight growing Islamic State influence

The head of the authorities of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, announced that six assailants had been killed, and the search for the remaining perpetrators will continue until all are caught.
The head of the authorities of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, announced that six assailants had been killed, and the search for the remaining perpetrators will continue until all are caught.
Images source: © East News | AA/ABACA
Sylwester Ruszkiewicz

24 June 2024 17:33

After Sunday’s attacks in Dagestan, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) pointed out that the attack was carried out by Wilayat Kavkaz, the local branch of the Islamic State in the North Caucasus, according to Wojciech Górecki from the Centre for Eastern Studies, such similar incidents may become more frequent each day.

The attacks in Dagestan — an autonomous republic in Russia by the Caspian Sea — took place on Sunday evening. The assailants opened fire in the regional capital Makhachkala, targeting a police station, and also in the border town of Derbent, where they fired towards a synagogue and a church.

The President of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, reported that the terrorists killed over 15 police officers. Civilians are also among the victims. Six attackers were killed, and the remaining are being sought. A national mourning and an anti-terror operation regime have been announced in Dagestan.

According to Wojciech Górecki, an expert on the Caucasus from the Centre for Eastern Studies, several aspects should be considered when evaluating what happened in Dagestan.

“First and foremost, Dagestan is the most multi-ethnic republic in Russia. There are larger ethnic groups and many smaller ones. In addition, there are several languages spoken by local communities. All of this is on a surface area of over 49,000 square kilometres. Dagestan has always created a specific system of dependencies between national movements and forces of pressure,” says Wojciech Górecki from OSW.

After the attack, a channel belonging to the Islamic State released a statement praising the “brothers from the Caucasus” for the action. According to ISW, the reference to the Caucasus suggests that the so-called Wilayat Kavkaz, a branch of the Islamic State in the North Caucasus, carried out the attack.

A new generation has emerged

According to Wojciech Górecki, actions by the North Caucasian Emirate, a terrorist organisation that existed de facto until 2014/2015, could also be at play.

“Ten years ago, Moscow, in connection with the Sochi Olympics in 2014, took very harsh measures to eliminate them and fight the Islamic armed underground in Dagestan. A large group also left for the Middle East, where the Islamic State began to gain strength. Previously, we had about 700 victims annually in Dagestan. Those were very bloody times. Ten years have passed, and a new generation of Islamic militants has emerged, and in addition, the region has been de-Russified. More and more people, especially the young, consider that their bond is not nationality but religion. And this creates a foundation for radical movements,” says Wojciech Górecki, an expert on the Caucasus.

In the opinion of American analysts from ISW observe that Caucasian Islamists became more active after the attack on Crocus City Hall (in March this year, 144 people died in a terrorist attack near Moscow - editor's note). Since April this year, they have been recruiting more and more people.

ISW states that "Russian authorities have been attempting to conduct an anti-terror operation in the North Caucasus since March 2024 to combat the growing influence of the Islamic State and Wilayat Kavkaz." ISW predicts that "increasingly strained relations between Russia and the Muslim minority, especially in the Caucasus, will likely continue to provide Wilayat Kavkaz and other regional extremist groups with a valuable recruiting base."

Putin could have a big problem

"Dagestan is now focused on what is happening in the Gaza Strip. It considers itself a part of the Islamic community. There's also the Kremlin's policy, which tries to stabilise the situation in the ethnic conglomerate through its people, causing internal fights over asset division in this republic. Often, these fights are conducted brutally," comments Wojciech Górecki from OSW.

And as he adds, soon the Kremlin might face a problem with Dagestan.

“It has been relatively calm there for 10 years. However, as the new generation rose, it may be tough for Putin to stop it. There could be more such attacks on synagogues, churches, or again on police officers. Today’s Caucasus is like an ‘internal abroad’ for the Kremlin. Moscow does everything to keep it stable. It accepts local leaders and informal arrangements at the cost of peace. When the stability ends, Putin might have a big problem,” assesses the expert.

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