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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Islamic Militants Raid Nalchik, 24 Dead

APBurned-out cars standing in front of a police station in central Nalchik on Thursday after militants carried out a series of attacks on sites around the city.
Scores of armed Islamist militants carried out near-simultaneous attacks on police, security and military sites in the Kabardino-Balkaria capital of Nalchik on Thursday morning, killing at least 12 servicemen and 12 residents.

The attacks sparked fierce fighting that stretched into the evening, with hundreds of federal troops, police and security service officers facing down a handful of militants holed up in a police station and a store. Five hostages were being held in the police station.

It appeared unlikely that any of the militants would make it out alive. President Vladimir Putin ordered the city of 240,000 sealed and told law enforcement officials to shoot anyone who put up resistance.

"The president gave an order for no gunman to be allowed to leave the town, and those who are armed and putting up resistance must be wiped out," Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin told reporters after meeting with Putin.

The president made no public remarks about the attacks as of late Thursday. He also did not issue immediate statements during previous crises, including last year's school hostage-taking in Beslan, which is located just 100 kilometers northwest of Nalchik.

Chechen rebels, who claimed responsibility for the Beslan hostage-taking, which killed 331 people, said they had organized Thursday's attacks. The claim, made on a rebel web site, could not be independently confirmed, but the attacks closely resembled a strike in neighboring Ingushetia in June 2004, in which scores of rebels targeted local police and military installations.

Up to 200 militants launched the Nalchik attacks at about 9:30 a.m., opening heavy fire on the regional Federal Security Service headquarters, the regional Interior Ministry building, the regional border guard offices, a local prison and a military unit guarding the city's airport.

Officials' estimates on the number of militants fluctuated from 80 to 200.

About a dozen militants also attempted to break into the office of the local branch of the Federal Prisons Service, but they were stopped by guards and two were killed, the service's chief, Akhmed Abidov, told Interfax.

The attackers also raided a hunting store and seized firearms and ammunition.

Fierce fighting broke out and continued into the afternoon, local journalist Fatima Tlisova said by telephone. She said she saw three dead bodies lying in the streets. Some of the dead men had the trademark beards of Wahhabis, followers of an austere brand of Islam that forms the core of the insurgency in the North Caucasus.

A journalist for state-run Rossia television said in a report from Nalchik that he had seen the bodies of about 15 bearded militants, some of whom were wearing military fatigues. He said the militants were heavily armed and were carrying grenade launchers.

Television footage showed overturned cars, some riddled with bullets, in the streets and black smoke billowing above several neighborhoods.

Tlisova said militants managed to set one police station on fire.


Rossia / AP

Smoke from burning houses rising over a Nalchik neighborhood Thursday.

Late Thursday, two small groups of militants were holed up at a police station and at a souvenir store across the street from the regional Federal Security Service building, Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov told reporters in Nalchik.

Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov said five or six fighters were in the police station and were holding five hostages.

Interfax, citing law enforcement officials, said two or three militants were in the store.

Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said 20 attackers had been killed in fighting, revising an earlier figure of 50. He said 12 had been detained and were undergoing interrogations.

Oleg Shandirov, the head of Kabardino-Balkaria's presidential administration, said Thursday night that 59 attackers had been killed and 17 had been detained, Interfax reported.

The discrepancy in figures was not immediately explained.

Dmitry Kozak, Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, told reporters in Nalchik that 12 residents had been killed in crossfire.

Local health officials said 72 people had been hospitalized with various injuries.

Chekalin, the deputy interior minister, told Putin in televised remarks that the attacks were a frantic attempt by the militants to help a group of 10 fellow fighters escape from a forest near Nalchik that police had blockaded overnight. Police killed all 10 on Thursday, he said.

Rebel web site Kavkaz Center said the attacks were carried out by Yarmuk, a local Islamist group that it said was part of its so-called Caucasus Front, which comprises fighters from Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics.

The web site said 110 police and military officers were killed in the fighting.

Kolesnikov said 12 police officers and soldiers were killed.

Vasily Panchenko, the chief spokesman for the Interior Ministry troops, said the militants had attempted to repeat the 2004 Ingush attack, which killed about 60 police officers and was hailed by Chechen rebels as a major success.

Kolesnikov accused local Yarmuk leader Anzor Astemirov and Ingush militant Iless Gorchkhanov of plotting Thursday's attacks. "Their aim was to destabilize the situation," the deputy prosecutor general said in televised remarks, adding that Gorchkhanov was a close associate of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Astemirov is wanted on charges of organizing an attack on the Nalchik-based regional offices of the Federal Drug Control Service last December. Four officers died and scores of weapons were looted in the raid.

As the fighting began Thursday morning, Nalchik authorities ordered all children evacuated from local schools and urged residents to leave the city.

State television showed long lines of motorists leaving the city through heavily guarded checkpoints. No one was allowed into the city, law enforcement officials said. The Nalchik airport was shut down after the attack on the military unit, which proved unsuccessful. Flights in and out of the republic were suspended "until situation is stabilized," a Transportation Ministry spokesman in Moscow told Interfax. Public transportation also ground to a halt, and most stores were closed throughout the day.

Neighboring North Ossetia and Ingushetia sealed their borders with Kabardino-Balkaria.

Europe's leading human rights watchdog, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, denounced the attack. PACE has strongly criticized Moscow in the past over its record in the North Caucasus. PACE chairman Rene van der Linden called the attackers "criminals" and offered his condolences to victims in a letter to State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov.