Russia Update: ISIS Takes Responsibility for Shooting in Derbent; 1 Officer Killed, 11 People Injured

December 31, 2015
The agent fortress of Naryn-Kala in Derbent, Dagestan. Stock photo via

A border guard has been killed and 11 people injured in a shooting in Derbent, Dagestan at the ancient fortress of Naryn-kala. ISIS has taken responsibility for the attack.

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ISIS Reportedly Takes Responsibility for Shooting in Derbent, Dagestan In Which 1 Officer Killed, 11 People Injured

A border guard has been killed and 11 people injured in a shooting in Derbent, Dagestan, at the ancient fortress of Naryn-kala, Caucasian Knot and report.

Gunmen began firing from the woods last night, December 30, striking a group of people on the viewing platform at the fortress.

The victims turned out to be a mixture of tourists and military people who had come there for a meeting, said Caucasian Knot. A border guard was killed, and 11 others were brought to the hospital for treatment. Nine currently remain in the hospital and are expected to recover; one, a contract soldier, was transferred to a military hospital, said a physician.

A source told Interfax that among the attackers were three militants from the Yuzhnaya gang: the leader, Abutdin Khanmagomedov; Radzhap Ismailov; and Nariman Bashirov.

A law-enforcement source told Caucasian Knot that Khanmagomedov, 31, is a native of the village of Khapil in the Tabasar District bordering Derbent. His group is made up of just 2-3 other people, and they had sworn allegiance to ISIS.

The SITE Intelligence Group has reported that ISIS took responsibility for the attack.

Caucasian Knot reported that a number of statements from ISIS sites and Twitter accounts have been made claiming  to have organized the attack specifically against Russian soldiers, and that the militants themselves suffered no casualties.

If true, it would be the second such attack from ISIS in Russia in the last three months, says Caucasian Knot. The previous attack was September 2, reportedly on an army barracks in Magaramkent District which borders the Derbent District, although other reports said there wasn’t an attack on the border guards’ base, but instead a shoot-out when police stopped two militants.

There is some debate by regional experts, however, as to the extent that ISIS’s main commanders in Syria and Iraq were involved in the Dagestan attacks. 

Experts told Caucasian Knot that they believed that the military people were the target of the attack, but that the Caucasus Emirate could be involved.

Geidar Dzhemal, chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia, told Caucasian Knot that while “it has become fashionable recently to ascribe everything to ISIS,” he thought ISIS was not involved, but instead the attack was made locally by the Caucasus Emirate, which has been opposed to ISIS.

This year the Caucasus Emirate, whose leaders have been killed by Russian forces, was reported to declare allegiance to ISIS, however, and ISIS in turn declared a veliyat, or governate, in Dagestan.

Dzhemal commented (translation by The Interpreter):

“In the case of the Islamic State, we’re talking about initiative groups that have taken a peculiar kind of ‘franchise’ with ISIS. Such people, who call themselves supporters of ISIS, can appear in Alaska or Florida. But their actions should not be ascribed to Raqqa or Al-Baghdadi.

People clash with the system, with the existing order, which they do not accept. And they say they are supporters of ISIS, because that’s popular now. And then they take action. But to connect their actions with ISIS is entirely incorrect.”

Mikhail Roshchin, a senior researcher at the  Research Center of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Volga-Ural Region (CCACS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies noted:

“I would not start citing parallels with the terrorist acts in Volgograd before New Year’s [in December 2013]. Because a very serious action was made in Volgograd.

It’s quite possible that supporters of ISIS in the Caucasus could be related to the shooting, taking into account that a border guard was killed. However, this cannot be confirmed 100%.”

Aleksei Malashenko, expert on Islam for the Moscow Carnegie Center, commented:

“If you go by the logic of the militants, it’s advantageous for them to shoot both military and tourists. 

Furthermore, it’s a response to Abdulatipov, against the background of his interview to Vedomosti. He said the situation in the region was improving in this interview.”

His reference is to an interview given December 24 by Ramazan Abdulatipov, head of Dagestan, to Vedomosti in which he described how he was “installing order” in the republic. He cited the precise figure of 643 people from Dagestan who had gone to fight with ISIS (about 37% of the estimated 2,700), although experts said it could be many more.

He also noted that an estimated 17,000 truckers from Dagestan — the largest from any area of Russia — were involved in the long-distance drivers’ strikes. Vedomosti reported that since coming to power, Abdulatipov has run up a deficit from 8 billion to 14 billion rubles ($109 to $190 million), far more than many other republics.

Asked if he believed that the Metrojet downing was a terrorist attack, Abdulatipov said ISIS had taken responsibility for it although “such events should be cautiously covered” and offered his analysis:

I met with Saddam Hussein and I recall that even with all his ‘peculiarity,” there was stability in Iraq. And what is there now? From a calm state, Iraq has turned into one of the centers of international terrorism. I don’t join those who place all the blame on the US for this. But I knew Hafez al-Assad well and I am acquainted with Bashar al-Assad, I know Syria well, a lot of Dagestanis live there. The Americans and their allies came, and Muslims began killing each other. I believe this was a major action aimed at Muslim countries, against Islam. Fearing the strengthening of Islam, they staged terrorist attacks in order to show what Muslims are, that they should be destroyed.

Russia doesn’t want to get involved in this ‘strategy.’ Russia and Putin are the only ones who support Muslim countries. Russia essentially saved Iran from aggression and today is saving Syria. Because an anti-terrorist internationale is needed. All religious, ethnic, economic, and political questions should be put aside and we must do what the president of Russia calls for. He supports Bashar Assad because terrorism prevails where the state is destroyed. He is for the preservation of Assad as the bearer of Syrian statehood.

Abdulatipov remarked that he had taken a preventative approach to the emergence of terrorists in villages and had schools and local government work with relatives, rather than punish families of terrorists as his neighbor Ramzan Kadyrov has done in Chechnya. He noted that 67 former fighters had “returned from the forests” this year in rehabilitation programs. He concluded:

“The most important thing we have achieved is that representatives of the Sufi and Salafi communities have not fought each other but go to the same mosque and are in the framework of one religion.”

The attack on the Derbent fortress also comes days after the FSB killed the head of another local terrorist group in a raid, and after a speech December 15 in which Aleksandr Bortnikov, head of the FSB also claimed progress in fighting terrorism. The total number of militants killed is now 166, as others were killed in recent clashes in Karachayev-Cherkassia.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick