20 Oct 2010

Gunmen storm Chechen parliament

5:39 am on 20 October 2010

Militants stormed parliament in the Russian republic of Chechnya on Tuesday, seizing deputies and gunning down guards, before being killed in a bloody standoff with security forces.

The group of up to four gunmen broke into the parliament building in the Chechen capital Grozny early in the morning, sparking fears of a major hostage crisis before security forces moved in to take the deputies to safety.

Officials said all the militants were killed by the security forces, with reports adding that some had been shot dead while others had killed themselves by detonating suicide charges.

A spokesman for the Chechen parliament, Zelim Yakhikhanov, said shots were heard in the courtyard and those inside the building knew they were trying to take us hostage.

"We managed to take refuge on the third floor where we stayed until the end of the operation," he said.

Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov told the Interfax news agency that Chechen security forces staged an intense 20-minute operation to kill the militants and free the parliament deputies and employees from the building.

Three interior ministry security guards and one civilian employee of the parliament were killed after militants stormed the parliament building, a spokesman for the interior ministry told AFP.

Russian news agency reports said that two militants blew themselves up in suicide blasts and the others were killed in an exchange of fire with security forces.

According to the investigative committee of prosecutors, 17 people were wounded in the incident.

Interfax said parliamentary speaker Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov had been evacuated from the parliament building in an armoured vehicle and had not been hurt.

Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, by coincidence on a trip to Grozny, described the operation by the security forces to free the deputies as a success.

The Kremlin has been fighting separatist insurgents in the Northern Caucasus since after the collapse of the Soviet Union and waged a war in 1994-1996 against separatist rebels in Chechnya.

However, after a second war broke out in Chechnya in 1999, the rebellion's inspiration moved towards Islam with the aim of imposing an Islamic state in the region.

In 2009, Russia ended a "counter-terror" operation that had been in place for a decade in Chechnya.

Chechnya has in the past years seen a relative improvement in security under its strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, although attacks remain a common occurrence.

But Mr Kadyrov, himself an ex-rebel, has been heavily criticised for his tough tactics by rights groups, who accuse him of torture and using his own personal forces to crack down on critics.

Russia remains on high alert for militant attacks after the double bombings carried out by two female suicide bombers on the Moscow metro on March 29 killed 40 and wounded more than 100.

Over 330 people were killed in Russia's most shocking hostage tragedy in 2004 when Chechen militants stormed a school in the town of Beslan in the Northern Caucasus region of North Ossetia.