Russia

Women shot dead in apparent Islamist attack on Orthodox church in North Caucasus region

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Five women were shot dead in an apparent Islamist attack on an Orthodox church in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan on Sunday.

According to local press reports, an unidentified gunman fired at worshippers in the small town of Kizlyar in the mainly Muslim region. At least five other people, including two Russian police officers, were wounded in the attack, which took place after a service to mark the start of Russian Orthodox Lent.

“An unknown man opened fire with a hunting rifle in Kizlyar, fatally wounding four women,” the regional internal affairs ministry said in a statement. A fifth woman died of her injuries in hospital, the health ministry spokeswoman Zalina Mourtazalieva told Tass news agency.

The attacker was “eliminated” by police fire, the regional internal affairs ministry added. He was a local man in his early 20s, according to a local official quoted by the Interfax news agency.

The Russian RBK daily quoted an Orthodox priest as saying the attacker had opened fire on churchgoers following an afternoon service. “We had finished the mass and were beginning to leave the church. A bearded man ran towards the church shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and killed four people,” Father Pavel said. “He was carrying a rifle and a knife.”

Footage posted by Mash, a Telegram messaging app-based news channel, showed worshippers running from the scene of the attack.

Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, is one of the poorest and most unstable regions of Russia. Islamist rebels from Dagestan are known to have travelled to Syria to join Islamic State .

Isis declared it had established a affiliate in the North Caucasus in 2015. It has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on police in Dagestan in the past couple of years involving guns and explosives, as local security forces battle an Islamist insurgency.

Attacks on the republic’s minority Orthodox Christian community are rare.

Sunday’s shooting came a month before the 18 March presidential election that Vladimir Putin is almost guaranteed to win.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Two members of protest punk art collective Pussy Riot have applied for political asylum in Sweden, arguing they have been persecuted in Russia.

pussy riot red square

Members of the Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot perform at Red Square in Moscow in 2012. Reuters

Lusine Djanyan and Aleksej Knedljakovskji are living in accommodation for asylum seekers with their son while they wait for a decision.

The couple have been living in Sweden for ten months and are hoping to be granted asylum soon, Swedish outlet mbl reported.

Pussy Riot gained worldwide fame in 2012 when the group staged a performance inside Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which was condemned as sacrilegious by the Orthodox Church.

The group said their protest was directed at the clergy's support for Vladimir Putin during his presidential campaign.

Three of the group members were sentenced to two years in a remote prison camp for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".

Since their protest, Pussy Riot members have travelled the world, appearing in music videos with Chloë Sevigny, making a Putin-themed cameo in House of Cards, and posing for pictures with Hillary Clinton.

They were also the inspiration for an advertising campaign of Swedish furniture giant Ikea, which featured four young people wearing balaclavas in an apparent reference to the collective.

The advert was later deleted from the company's Russian website, with an Ikea spokesperson saying: "We are politically and religiously independent and our website cannot be used as a platform for political or religious campaigns."