Nearly 20 dead as militants storm buildings in Chechnya
GROZNY // Fighting in Chechnya’s capital killed 19 people on Thursday as heavily-armed Islamists and police battled for hours in Grozny – the second such attack since October.
Militants barricaded themselves in a school and police cordoned off city streets, with the violence erupting as President Vladimir Putin addressed the nation.
Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov said nine militants were killed after several hours of fighting in the city, with armed personnel carriers dispatched to residential areas and shooting in the streets.
The operation also killed 10 security officers and injured 28, Russia’s National Antiterrorism Committee.
It said police efforts – which included the deployment of armoured personnel carriers in Grozny – “liquidated” the group and “thwarted major acts of terror” amid ongoing operations.
Mr Putin had pledged to wipe out insurgency in the North Caucasus but simmering violence has continued in Chechnya and nearby regions, with a suicide blast rocking Chechnya in October.
Mr Kadyrov said the militants had planned to stage an attack on Friday but the plan fell through after traffic police stopped them on Thursday.
The militants later stormed a building called the Press House in central Grozny as well as a school about a kilometre away.
“We have them surrounded in the school area,” Mr Kadyrov said on Echo of Moscow radio, adding that the gunmen were “very heavily armed”.
A witness said a large area in the city centre was closed off by security forces, with automatic fire as well as larger calibre artillery audible several blocks away.
Authorities said gunmen inside the Press House – a tall building that houses the media – were eliminated, as it stood smouldering and gutted from fire.
Speaking in the Kremlin, Mr Putin said he was certain that “local boys, local police, will suitably manage” to bring down the “latest raid by the terrorists”.
North Caucasus Islamists, known as the Caucasus Emirate, took responsibility for the raid in a video posted on the website Kavkaz Center, saying it was revenge for “oppression of Muslim women”.
The attack marks the first such raid in months by militants in Grozny – which was ravaged by two wars between separatists and the Russian army over the past 20 years.
But it comes weeks after five policemen were killed and a dozen wounded in Grozny in October when they stopped a young suicide bomber from attacking a concert hall where thousands had gathered to mark a local holiday.
That attack shattered a period of relative calm in the region and sparked concerns of a new cycle of violence in the North Caucasus.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: December 4, 2014 04:00 AM