A man carrying a knife and a hunting rifle opened fire on worshipers on Sunday at an Orthodox church in Kizlyar, in the Dagestan region of Russia, killing at least five people and wounding several others, according to a Russian state news agency.
The gunman shouted, “Allahu akbar” and began firing, a priest told local the news media. Churchgoers said they had prevented more casualties by closing the door to the church and stopping the attacker from getting inside.
The man was later shot and killed by security forces on duty at the time, reports said. The assailant was identified only as a 22-year-old man from the region, the Russian news agency Tass said.
The Islamic State claimed credit for the attack on the church, issuing a bulletin on its Amaq news agency, followed by a lengthier official statement in which the group described the assailant as a “soldier of the caliphate” and provided a nom de guerre for the attacker, Khalil al-Dagestani.
Not long afterward, pro-Islamic State channels on the Telegram app released a video showing a man said to be the assailant sitting before the Islamic State flag, his face covered by a ski mask. A gun and a long knife leaned against the wall behind him, presumably the weapons that would later be used in the attack.
In the video, the man pledges allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader, referring to him as “the Emir of the believers,” the honorific that Islamic State members reserve for the man they view as their caliph.
While the authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed, Islamic State members and supporters were promoting it online.
The attack took place in Kizlyar, a town of about 50,000 people on the Terek River delta on the border with Chechnya, Tass said.
Sunday is the last day before Orthodox Christian Lent. The Russian RBK Daily quoted an Orthodox priest as saying that the attacker had opened fire on churchgoers after an afternoon service.
The priest, identified as Father Pavel, said: “We had finished the Mass and were beginning to leave the church. A bearded man ran towards the church shouting, ‘Allahu akbar.’ ”
Four women died at the scene, and a fifth died of her injuries at a hospital, a Health Ministry spokeswoman, Zalina Mourtazalieva, told Tass. Two Russian police officers were among five people injured in the attack.
The local Interior Ministry said the gunman had acted alone, according to the Interfax news agency.
After the man was shot and killed, photos circulating on media sites online showed the body of a man dressed in camouflage pants lying on the ground. His head was bloodied, and empty cartridges were scattered nearby. Other images showed what appeared to be a weapon.
Dagestan is a predominantly Muslim region between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea and is known for, among other things, widespread nepotism. Its administration has recently undergone a major cleanup that, according to some analysts, is meant to show the central government’s commitment to fighting corruption before presidential elections in March.
But two separatist wars in Chechnya have spread to Dagestan. In 2015, the Islamic State declared that it had established a “franchise” in the North Caucasus. It has claimed a number of attacks on the police in Dagestan.
A recent report by the Soufan Group, which offers strategic security intelligence services, determined that countries belonging to the former Soviet Union have sent the highest number of foreign fighters to Syria, accounting for about 8,700 of the estimated 40,000 foreigners who have traveled to join the jihad.