Russia: Chechen Raids Killed 92

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Ninety-two people were killed and 120 wounded in a nighttime attack on the Russian republic of Ingushetia earlier this week, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing the regional government.

Sixty-seven of the dead were members of law enforcement agencies, said the commission member, a local legislator, who requested anonymity.

The regional branch of Russia's Federal Security Service received information about the movements of an armed group in cars about 30 minutes before the start of attacks late Monday night, ITAR-Tass quoted the deputy of the regional FSB branch, Andrei Konin, as saying.

"But we did not expect such an extent — simultaneous attacks on 15 sites," Konin was quoted as saying.

An Ingush policeman who identified himself only by his first name, Musa, said that the attacks appeared to be timed around the changing of the guard at the Kavkaz checkpoint, the biggest army and police checkpoint on the main highway between Chechnya and Ingushetia, shortly before midnight Monday.

Many soldiers were killed in ambushes, while police and other law enforcement officials were shot and killed after being called to work after an official alert was issued, Musa said. The officials were stopped at checkpoints set up by the gunmen, who checked their identification papers. He said the gunmen disarmed and tied up some traffic policemen but spared their lives.

In a lightning visit to Ingushetia on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a regiment of Interior Ministry forces would be stationed permanently there, raising the Kremlin's troop commitment to the troubled Caucasus region.

The coordinated assaults by heavily armed fighters on police and border guards facilities in the main Ingush city of Nazran and several smaller settlements was a graphic demonstration of Russian forces' vulnerability to guerrilla fighters. Ingush police said that many of their number were killed in along the road as militants stopped official cars at checkpoints and inspected identification papers.

For the approximately four hours that the fighting raged, the militants — whom Ingush police estimated to number up to 200 — controlled police checkpoints along much of the 35-mile Ingush stretch of the Trans-Caucasus highway, the main route used by the Russian military in the region.

Thousands of Russian troops streamed into Ingushetia Tuesday to search for the attackers, who were believed to have escaped into the thick woods along the Chechen border, over the mountains into Georgia, or back to their hometowns in Ingushetia itself. Musa, the Ingush policemen, said that most of the attackers were believed to be Ingush, not Chechen.

Putin, meeting with Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, said the search for the attackers must go on "as long as necessary."

"It's a new attempt, not the first one, to intimidate the Ingush, intimidate the leadership of the republic, and destabilize the situation in the south of Russia," Putin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Five alleged attackers were detained, Ingush Interior Ministry spokesman Yakhya Khadziyev said. Two of the suspects were wounded.

Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov, the Kremlin's candidate to replace slain Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, said that the attacks had been led by an Ingushetia-based rebel leader, Magomed Yevloyev, Interfax said. His deputy, Ruslan Alkhanov, told Interfax that Yevloyev was a leader of the extremist Wahhabi Islamic group.

The brazen assaults raised new doubts about the Kremlin's strategy in Chechnya. Unable to defeat the rebels and refusing to negotiate with them, the Kremlin instead has banked on restoring stability through civil measures, including holding elections for a Chechen president and promising the republic a substantial amount of autonomy.

Kremlin-backed Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated in May, and Aslan Maskhadov, Chechnya's former separatist president, said last week that the rebels were preparing new offensives.

Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Russian forces in Chechnya, accused Chechen rebels of planning the attacks, but said the raids were carried out by fighters recruited from both Chechnya and Ingushetia, the Interfax-Military News Agency reported.

Although the Chechen war occasionally spilled into Ingushetia, the republic has remained comparatively stable, and a significant recruitment of Ingush fighters could foretell a wide spread of the war beyond Chechnya.

"The attacks were clearly saber rattling, aimed to demonstrate the rebels' effectiveness to attract funding from foreign terrorist networks," Shabalkin was quoted as saying.

Although Chechnya is a largely Muslim region in overwhelmingly Christian Russia, the first of Chechnya's two wars was an essentially secular conflict. After Russian troops pulled out when Chechen rebels fought them to a standstill, the separatists increasingly took on a specifically Islamic mantle.

Flags flew at half-staff and all entertainment programs in Ingushetia were canceled from Wednesday through Friday to mark the official mourning period.