Russian region of Dagestan holds a day of mourning after attacks kill 19 people

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In this photo taken from video released by the National Antiterrorism Committee on June 24, police and FSB officers gather as they conduct a counter-terrorist operation in republic of Dagestan, Russia. (AP)

MOSCOW, June 24, (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.

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