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The storming of Dagestan airport: How a thousand protestors caused shutdown and carnage on Sunday

More than a thousand pro-Palestine protesters stormed a Russian airport on Sunday evening after rumours swirled that “Israeli refugees” were arriving from Tel Aviv.

The group stormed into the Makhachkala airport, located in the Republic of Dagestan, and rushed onto the landing field, chanting antisemitic slogans and seeking passengers arriving on the Tel Aviv flight, Russian news agencies and social media reported.

Authorities quickly closed the airport in the capital of the predominantly Muslim region and police converged on the facility.

Dagestan’s Ministry of Health said more than 20 people were injured, with two in critical condition. It said the injured included police officers and civilians.

The local leader has since blamed Ukraine – he claimed he had “reliable information” that the rumours of refugees were started by a Telegram channel outside of Russia – but has not provided any evidence.

Here is everything we know about what the Russian authorities are calling a riot.

7pm: Crowds gather in the car park of the airport

Crowds gather outside the Makhachkala airport on Sunday evening (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)
Crowds gather outside the Makhachkala airport on Sunday evening (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)

Tensions arose when, the previous day, a local Telegram channel with more than 64,000 followers claimed that Israeli refugees were staying at a hotel inland near the border with Chechnya.

They called for demonstrations in the centre of the Makhachkala, managing to encourage only small crowds to attend.

Planned demonstrations for a second day, this time at the airport, escalated after the channel posted a screenshot from a flight tracker showing a Russian plane descending across the Georgian border into Dagestan.

The screenshot was posted at 6.56pm local time (3.56pm GMT). Demonstrators had already gathered outside the airport prior to this message.

The Independent has reviewed the flight history of (Red Wings) RWZ4728 and can confirm that it did arrive from Tel Aviv. It arrived in Makhachkala just after 7.15pm local time.

At 7.01pm, the channel wrote: “Everyone to the airport!”

8.10pm: Someone surrounded and accosted by the swelling crowd

A video emerged of a crowd of men surrounding someone they suspect of being from Israel. The channel that had called for the demonstration had urged the crowds to check the passports of those leaving the airport.

“Every car must be followed by our car – we must identify everyone,” it wrote.

In the video, the suspected Israeli’s passport is flicked through as others film the ordeal.

Images show a woman holding a sign nearby that reads: “We are against Jewish refugees.”

Videos showed the group shouting: “Death to the Zionists.”

8.20pm: The crowd storms the airport

Just after 8.20pm, the first videos emerged of the protesters inside the airport. They appear to have stormed the entrance to the international terminal, from where they had moved after gathering in the car park.

At 8.25pm, the channel urged people to return to the car park. They wrote: “Attention! Brothers! What we have done so far is enough! Just go back to the exit and be there checking the cars!

“There is no need to engage in vandalism!!! Tell everyone on the spot!”

This appeared to have no effect on the crowd. Five minutes later, they could be seen attempting to kick down a fence to the side of the terminal.

The channel posted this video alongside the caption: “This is unnecessary! Come back to inspect every car!”

It then abruptly stopped publishing footage of the incident before authorities temporarily shut it down.

A group of Dagestani men are seen inside the terminal at 8.30pm, according to footage posted by another channel.

Fifteen minutes later, the crowds are seen running through the airport, towards the runway.

9pm: Crowds reach the runway

Protesters carrying Palestinian flags are seen on the runway in Dagestan (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)
Protesters carrying Palestinian flags are seen on the runway in Dagestan (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)

The first videos of the protesters on the runway emerged just after 9pm.

One video, taken from the stairs up to the back entrance of a nearby plane, shows a few demonstrators running around the parked planes looking for flight RWZ4728.

At the airport car park, where crowds continue to swell, riot police equipped with shields arrive and begin to circle the group.

9.10pm: Airport runway is closed

Local media reports suggest the Makhachkala airport authorities closed their runway just after 9pm.

9.20pm: Crowds reach a Red Wing plane

Rioters approach a Russian Red Wing  plane believed to have arrived from Tel Aviv (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)
Rioters approach a Russian Red Wing plane believed to have arrived from Tel Aviv (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)

A portion of the crowds, now being labelled rioters by the local authorities, surround a flight they believe to be RWZ4728.

It is unclear if it is the exact flight that left Tel Aviv earlier that day, but it is a Red Wings flight, and only one RW flight travelled from Israel to Dagestan that day.

Russian media reports suggested that the flight from Tel Aviv was only connecting at Makhachkala before heading to Moscow, but the flight did not leave Dagestan, according to flight tracking information.

10pm: Rioters start fighting with police

Riot police start to surround crowds gathered outside the airport (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)
Riot police start to surround crowds gathered outside the airport (Telegram/@askrasul/AFP)

Minister of national policy of Dagestan Enrik Muslimov arrives at the airport, according to local reports.

One Russian state media outlet wrote: “Now the crowd has been pushed out of the runway, and almost everyone has been removed from the airport building.”

Outside the building, footage shows rioters rocking a police vehicle.

The Investigative Committee of Russia for the Republic of Dagestan announces it has formally opened a criminal case for organising mass riots (212 Criminal Code)

Video later emerges of rioters being arrested under the Red Wings plane. It is unclear when these detentions took place.

11.30pm: Crowds start throwing rocks at security officials

Videos emerge of rioters throwing stones at security officials guarding the resecured fences.

There are various reports of gunfire.

Footage then emerges of hundreds of rioters marching along the runway. It is unclear what time these videos were taken.

According to one local state media outlet, a passenger blocked at the airport reported “riot police, military, protesters, all in a heap”.

According to another outlet, about 500 police officers were sent to Makhachkala airport to contain the riots.

The word “pogrom”, a reference to the killing of Jewish civilians, is appearing in multiple Russian reports of the riots at Makhachkala.

Midnight: Dagestan head calls for de-escalation

The head of the Republic of Dagestan, Sergey Melikov, laments the situation in Gaza facing Palestinians but calls for de-escalation in Makhachkala. A military chief from Chechnya makes a similar statement.

Melikov wrote: “All Dagestanis empathise with the suffering of victims of the actions of unrighteous people and politicians and pray for peace in Palestine.

“But what happened at our airport is outrageous and should receive an appropriate assessment from law enforcement agencies! And this will definitely be done!”

2am: Airport cleared, injuries sustained

The local health ministry says roughly 20 people are injured, including at least two security officials.

At least 60 people are detained and 150 rioters are identified as the main perpetrators. Crowds are then dispersed while local authorities remain at the airport.

The Makhachkala airport was to remain closed until 3 am on Tuesday, Russia's civil aviation authority Rosaviatsia said.

The response

Mr Melikov, during a press conference, blamed the riots on Ukraine without providing evidence.

“Attempts to destabilise the situation in Dagestan, including using prohibited methods associated with inciting ethnic hatred, are being carried out by our enemies, opponents of our country,” he said.

“Today we have received absolutely reliable information that the channel ‘Morning of Dagestan’ is administered and regulated from the territory of Ukraine – by traitors, Banderaites.”

The Kremlin on Monday concurred with Mr Melikov. Spokesperson Dmitry Peksov blamed the unrest on “outside interference” and said a meeting will take place involving president Vladimir Putin to discuss “attempts by the West to use the events in the Middle East to divide the (Russian) society”.

“It is well known and obvious that yesterday's event around the Makhachkala airport is largely the result of outside interference, including information influence from outside,” Peskov told reporters at his daily news conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel “expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they may be and to act resolutely against the rioters and against the wild incitement directed against Jews and Israelis”.

Mr Netanyahu's office added that the Israeli ambassador to Russia was working with Russia to keep Israelis and Jews safe.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky responded on Monday morning, pointing to Russian antisemitism.

“This is not an isolated incident in Makhachkala, but rather part of Russia’s widespread culture of hatred toward other nations, which is propagated by state television, pundits, and authorities,” he said.

“Russian antisemitism and hatred toward other nations are systemic and deeply rooted. Hatred is what drives aggression and terror. We must all work together to oppose hatred.”

You can read a full breakdown of the response here.