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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

50 Dead in Chechen Clashes With Islamist Paramilitaries




More than 50 people have been killed in a battle between Chechen security forces and Islamist paramilitary units in Russia's breakaway republic, Itar-Tass reported Thursday.


Itar-Tass, which said its correspondent was unable to reach the scene of fierce fighting in Chechnya's second largest town, Gudermes, did not say how many of the casualties belonged to which side.


The fighting broke out Wednesday when Chechen officials said their military garrison was attacked by Wahhabist Islamic extremists. Wahhabism is a conservative arm of Sunni Islam.


Fighting continued until nightfall Wednesday, but the area was quiet Thursday, the news agency said.


As the reports came in, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov went on television to warn against an Islamic fundamentalist movement called the Wahhabites. He said they had been trying to import an alien ideology from Arab countries.


A former prime minister, Shamil Basayev, was quoted by Interfax as saying "armed groups" had clashed in a confrontation that began late Tuesday in the town 38 kilometers east of Grozny.


But according to the Russian television channel RTR, unspecified armed groups clashed with Chechen government forces in Gudermes.


Maskhadov appealed to the people of Chechnya to resist the Wahhabite movement.


It was not immediately clear from the president's words what the Wahhabite connection was, direct or indirect, with the armed clash Wednesday at Gudermes, if any.


Bassayev cast doubt on whether Wahhabites had been involved. "I don't believe they are who they say they are," he was quoted as saying.


Recently, the authorities have claimed that outsiders are supporting Wahhabists, militant Islamic groups said to have ties to similar groups in Central Asia and the Middle East.