Fighting between heavily-armed Islamists and police in the centre of Chechnya’s capital Grozny has left 19 dead and many injured, the second attack since October.
Militants barricaded themselves in a school on Thursday and police cordoned off city streets, with the violence erupting just as President Vladimir Putin gave his annual address to the nation, vowing to end violence in Chechnya.
Chechnya’s head 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 against the gunmen left 10 security officers dead and injured 28, Russia’s National Anti-terrorism Committee said in a statement quoted by Russian news agencies.
It said police efforts – which included the deployment of armoured personnel carriers in Grozny – “liquidated” the group and “thwarted major acts of terror” but that some security actions were ongoing.
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.
Kadyrov said the militants were planning to stage an attack Friday but the plan fell through after traffic police stopped them in the early hours of Thursday.
It was unclear how many groups of militants were involved as they 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,” Kadyrov said on Echo of Moscow radio, adding that the gunmen were “very heavily armed”, including with grenade launchers.
A correspondent 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, Putin said he was certain that “local boys, local police, will suitably manage” to bring down the “latest raid by the terrorists.”
A video posted by human rights activists of the Committee Against Torture showed two men with automatic weapons firing from a street corner several blocks away from the school.
North Caucasus Islamists, known as the Caucasus Emirate, took responsibility for the raid in a video posted on the website Kavkaz Centre, saying it was revenge for “oppression of Muslim women.”