Staunton, February 19 – The shooting that claimed five lives at a Russian Orthodox Church in Kizlyar yesterday represents a dangerous new escalation in Daghestan. For the first time, an Islamist radical there has attacked ethnic Russians as a group, an apparent protest against the new Russian governor intended to get Russians to flee from the North Caucasus.
Magomed Shamkhalov, a commentator for the OnKavkaz portal, says that “the cynical attack” likely was organized by “forces which have lost access” to stealing form the budget and thus is understand by Daghestanis as “an attack against Vladimir Vasiliyev, Putin’s new man in Makhachkala (onkavkaz.com/news/2121-krovavoe-voskresene-kizljara-boeviki-dagestana-nikogda-ne-ubivali-russkih-javnyi-udar-po-vasile.html).
The shooter, identified as 22-year-old Khalil Khalilov, used a hunting rifle and killed five women as well as wounding others. He comes from a predominantly non-Russian region not far from Kizlyar, a city which still has an ethnic Russian majority and in which up to now ethnic Russians have felt more or less at home.
Daghestani bloggers suggest, and Shamkhalov agrees, that the attack probably was not orchestrated by radical Islamists as many in Moscow appear to believe but rather by “influential forces who with the arrival of Vasiliya … have lost their access to the budget of the republic to which they had been accustomed for the last quarter of a century.”
But however that may be, others see the attack as directed at the ethnic Russians of the North Caucasus as a group with the intention of the attacker being to spread fear among Russians and thus lead even more of them to flee the predominantly Muslim region than have in the past deacades.
In an article in Komsomolskaya Pravda today, Dmitry Steshin, the Moscow paper’s special correspondent for the region, argues that “only churches are holding the last Russians in the Caucasus” and that this attack will reduce the possibility that they will be able to continue to do so (kp.ru/daily/26796/3831461/).
And still others argue that this attack means that Orthodox churches are not the targets of Islamist terrorists more generally, a conclusion that if true will only push the Moscow Patriarchate and the church establishment into an even more hostile position relative to the Muslim population of the Russian Federation.
Roman Silantyev, a specialist on Islam with close ties to both the Patriarchate and the Russian government, tells the Nakanune news agency that Sunday’s shooting demonstrates that Orthodox churches not only in the North Caucasus but elsewhere are now “in the zone of risk” and could be attacked by ISIS at any time (nakanune.ru/articles/113711/).
He too points out that this attack on a Russian church is something unprecedented in Daghestan. “Before this,” Silantyev says, “terrorists attacked all people not making any distinction between Orthodox Christians and Muslims … There were several churches which received threats but they weren’t attacked.” Now the situation appears to have changed.
Defending against lone wolf militants is extremely difficult, Silantyev says; and in his view, there is only one way to proceed: to hunt down and arrest as many Wahhabis as possible: “the fewer Wahhabis there are in Russia, the less the risk” of a terrorist attack. If there were no Wahhabis in Russia, he argues, there would not be any terrorist attacks.