Contact Me By Email

Atlanta, GA Weather from Weather Underground

Friday, October 14, 2005

At Least 85 Slain as Rebels Attack in South Russia - New York Times

At Least 85 Slain as Rebels Attack in South Russia - New York TimesOctober 14, 2005
At Least 85 Slain as Rebels Attack in South Russia

NALCHIK, Russia, Friday, Oct. 14 - Insurgents attacked at least nine police and security buildings on Thursday in this southern Russian city in coordinated daylight raids, witnesses and the authorities said, further spreading Russia's battle beyond its roots in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Russian officials said at least 85 people had been killed, most of them insurgents.

One band of the masked gunmen overwhelmed a police station and captured hostages, including police officers, and held them into the night. Two gun shops were also sacked. On Friday morning, a senior official for the Interior Ministry said all the hostages had been freed, and the terrorists who had held them had been killed in an early-morning action.

Russian officials cautioned that the military operation was continuing and that the death count could rise. According to initial tallies, 12 police officers and 12 civilians were among those killed.

There were also signs of a planned Russian sweep of areas suspected to hold more gunmen, as a senior government official announced that President Vladimir V. Putin had told the authorities to block the routes in and out of Nalchik, and had ordered the destruction of any insurgents who resisted. A local radio station called on residents to stay in their homes.

"The president has ordered us to keep every militant within Nalchik and to eliminate any armed person resisting detention," said First Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Chekalin. "The order of the president will be fulfilled."

Armored vehicles and a heavy presence of Russian troops set up checkpoints. The city, which was almost fully under the authorities' control by late afternoon, fell mostly quiet at night.

The attacks, in Russia's Caucasus region, took place in a city that had remained free until now of the worst violence that has stalked southwestern Russia since war began in nearby Chechnya in 1994, and cast fresh doubts on the Kremlin's insistence that the region has been stabilizing and returning to its control.

Violence this year had already flared anew in Dagestan, where insurgents have been killing police officers and soldiers with near regularity, and last year guerrillas and terrorists conducted large operations in the nearby republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia, where 331 people died in the school siege in Beslan.

A Web site that often carries messages from the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev, who planned the school siege in Beslan, said the attackers were Islamic fighters aligned with Chechen separatists. It said the attacking bands included local cells as well as fighters from elsewhere who had traveled to the republic for battle.

The fresh attacks sent ripples through the region. The president of the Kremlin-installed government in Chechnya announced that his local forces had been put on alert, as did leaders in Ingushetia. Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of an irregular force of former Chechen guerrillas that is at least publicly loyal to Moscow, offered to send his fighters to Nalchik's aid.

Nalchik itself, a city of about 275,000 and the capital of the internal Russian republic of Kabardino-Balkariya, was crowded with reinforcements, including special Russian Army units. Late Thursday night, convoys of trucks carrying soldiers and an armored personnel carrier were also visible on the roads north of the city, heading toward it.

The attacks on Thursday were also reminiscent of a raid in June 2004 in nearby Ingushetia, when Mr. Basayev led hundreds of guerrillas in simultaneous attacks against police and security offices and barracks. Nearly 100 people were killed, and hundreds of weapons stolen before Mr. Basayev and his gunmen slipped away.

Kabardino-Balkariya, a small and principally Muslim republic with a stagnant economy and about 800,000 residents, has been destabilized in recent years by what the authorities describe as the growing presence of Islamic guerrillas and terrorists, who have had several smaller skirmishes with the authorities.

Its long-serving president, whose recent management of the republic was criticized for corruption and a repressive police force, was replaced only two weeks ago by a Moscow businessman and Kremlin loyalist, Arsen Kanokov.

Mr. Kanokov, 48 and an ethnic Kabardin, arrived at a time when the insurgency had deepened. Late last year, an Islamic group, Yarmuk, was accused of seizing a drug police post, executing four officers, and then escaping with a cache of arms and munitions. Early this week, the police announced the discovery of a large bomb laboratory here.

Marina Kyasova, spokeswoman for the republic's Interior Ministry, said Thursday's violence began when law enforcement officers raided an apartment in Belaya Rechka, an area on the outskirts of the city, at 3 a.m., trapping several suspected Islamic terrorists inside.

The men, who were suspected of being connected to the recently raided bomb laboratory, resisted fiercely, she said. And at 9 a.m., as the fight in Belaya Rechka continued, the police realized they were being attacked elsewhere throughout the city, she said.

Insurgents attacked three police district buildings, she said, as well the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, the office of the special riot police, a police foot-patrol command, a counterterrorism center, an office of the corrections department, and a building used by the F.S.B., or Federal Security Service, one of Russia's successors to the K.G.B.

Two gun shops were also struck at the same time, in an effort by the insurgents to gather weapons.

Liuan Gunzhafov, 26, a lawyer who lives above the Arsenal gun shop on Kirova Street, said he saw a car and a tractor carrying a total of seven masked men arrive at the store at 9 a.m. With several insurgents with Kalashnikov assault rifles standing guard, others tied ropes and cable to the shop's window bars, and used the tractor to tug the bars free of the window frame.

After masked men climbed through the window to try stealing the store's contents, he said, two traffic police officers arrived. A gunfight ensued. One police officer was killed, he said, but not before three insurgents were also shot and the other four had fled. Blood was pooled in the parking lot, where two black ski masks had also been left behind.

The masked men, who spoke Russian, had seemed uninterested in the civilians who peered at them or drove past, Mr. Gunzhafov said. They simply warned people to stay clear. "I leaned over the balcony to watch and one wagged his finger at me," he said.

At government buildings, however, the insurgents fought. The F.S.B. said it had turned back the assault on its building, although one officer was killed.

Most of the other attacks were rebuffed as well, Ms. Kyasova said, but Police District No. 3 was overrun, and at least seven gunmen remained inside with hostages.

Ms. Kyasova said the ministry had confirmed that there were hostages because it had spoken to some of them by telephone. The area around the building was surrounded by police officers in the night.

The Interior Ministry declined to say how many hostages were inside, or their condition. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he said he was forbidden to speak publicly about a continuing operation, said police officers were among them.

As the authorities regained control of the city, the initial tallies indicated the 61 insurgents had been killed, as were 12 law enforcement officers and 12 civilians, Ms. Kyasova said. Many more civilians and security officers were wounded, she said.

It was not clear how many insurgents had attacked; some officials said as many as 300. But Ms. Kyasova said the ministry estimated that 80 or 100 fighters had attacked.

She said some were local men, but "there are also those who are from somewhere else." She declined to elaborate. She also said about half the insurgents wore civilian clothes, and the rest were in camouflage.

Nikolai N. Zakharov, deputy spokesman for the F.S.B., said in a telephone interview that it was too soon to know the number of attackers, or their precise affiliations. There were scattered reports that at least one school had been seized, but that was denied by the pro-Chechen Web site,, and as well as by Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin envoy in the region.

Similarly, the Interior Ministry said early reports that the airport had been attacked were incorrect; rather, two ministry officials said, airport security forces had assisted the police in a skirmish nearby.

Sophia Kishkovsky and Andrew Kramer contributed reporting from Moscow for this article.

No comments:

Post a Comment