Two gunmen opened fire on a group of twenty tourists at the Russian Naryn-Kala fortress in Dagestan on Tuesday night, killing one and wounding 11 more.
“The dead man has been identified as a 26-year-old border police, as local authorities say they believe the shooting to be a terrorist attack by Islamist insurgents,” reports the UK Daily Mail.
The “local authorities” who portrayed the shooting as a jihad attack include the Head of the Republic of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov. (That is his actual title – he was appointed to the post by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.)
“This is most likely a trick by some remaining bandit groups or militants who have survived and seek vengeance for the peace and tranquillity in which Derbent residents live,” said Abdulatipov, referring to the city where the Naryn-Kala fortress is located. “We celebrated the 2,000th anniversary of Derbent town and this gave the people hope for living in peace. But apparently there are still people who are annoyed by this stability.”
Although the fortress was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and is described as a popular tourist attraction for people from across Russia, the tour group attacked on Tuesday was reportedly composed of locals. They were standing on a terrace, taking in the spectacular view, when the two gunmen fired an estimated 70 shots at them from a nearby forest, then fled the scene in a black Lada Priora car.
The Daily Mail notes that “gun and bomb attacks are common in Dagestan, a mostly-Muslim internal republic in Russia’s troubled North Caucasus region,” where “Moscow has been fighting Islamist insurgents” since the 1990s.
While the Daily Mail says attacks on tourists are considered unusual, recreational travel to Dagestan has long been discouraged due to safety concerns. In 2011, the BBC dubbed it “the most dangerous place in Europe.”
The New York Times reports that Russia’s Investigative Committee–roughly equivalent to the FBI–believes Dagestan has been “a focus of recruiting by the Islamic State.”
The Times notes that many Islamist insurgent leaders in Dagestan have switched their loyalty from al-Qaeda to ISIS over the past year, sending hundreds of recruits to fight in the Middle East. The prospective return of these militants as trained and battle-tested jihad fighters poses a major security problem for Russia, especially since the Islamic State has been calling for attacks to punish Russia for intervening in the Syrian civil war.
AFP adds that al-Qaeda’s operation in Syria, the Nusra Front, has also called upon jihadis in the Caucasus to wage attacks in Russia.