Islamic insurgents including a suicide bomber stormed Chechnya's Parliament today, leaving six people dead and 17 injured in one of the most brazen attacks on the provincial capital in months, officials said.
Ten years after the latest separatist war in the volatile region in southern Russia and after a decade of roundups and disappearances of Islamic suspects, it appears that Chechnya's Kremlin-backed administration still can't stop separatists from trying to blow up Parliament.
Today's attack left a grim scene around the Parliament building, with body parts and a decapitated corpse lying on the ground near shattered window glass. Interior Ministry special forces paced the area in camouflage fatigues, wielding grenade-launching Kalashnikov rifles.
Chechnya, part of Russia's volatile North Caucasus region, has been battling an Islamist insurgency for years despite the iron rule of its Moscow-backed president, Ramzan Kadyrov. The exact motive for today's attack was not known, but Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev was in Grozny for talks with Kadyrov about recent violence.
One militant set off a bomb today at the gates of the Parliament complex in Grozny, the Chechen capital, killing himself and wounding others, Chechen police spokesman Ramzan Bekkhoyev told The Associated Press.
At least two other gunmen ran into the building shouting "Allahu akbar!" — "God is great!" in Arabic — as they opened fire on the people inside, he said.
Two police officers and one parliamentary official were killed in the attack and at least two insurgents were slain in an ensuing firefight, officials said.
Nurgaliyev said the insurgents had tried to get into the main parliamentary hall.
"As always, they failed. Unfortunately, we were not able to avoid loss of life," he said in a televised speech. "The situation we saw today is extremely rare. Here, there is stability and security."
Russian news agencies said six of the wounded were police and 11 were civilians.
An AP reporter at Parliament saw ambulances take away two bodies, along with the severed head of an insurgent.
The storming of Parliament appeared to be part of a larger, coordinated attack. Russian media reported that insurgents also attacked the Agriculture Ministry building in the same complex and shots were fired inside the office of the parliament's speaker, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov. The Interfax news agency said the speaker had been safely evacuated.
Lawmakers decided not to cancel today's parliament session in Grozny despite the attack. Nurgaliyev spoke before the lawmakers, insisting the rebels' days were numbered.
"The leadership of the insurgent underground has practically been taken out. A significant portion of its arms supplies and financial resources have been cut off. The work of emissaries from foreign terrorist centers has been contained," he declared.
Kadyrov recently has boasted that peace has returned to Grozny. Human rights activists, however, say the price has been too high, because Kadyrov's administration has backed extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture under the pretext of fighting extremism.
Russia fought two wars with Chechen separatists in the 1990s before finally installing a loyal government there in 2000. Since then, most of the Islamist insurgents have moved over into the neighboring Russian republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia, with terrorist attacks seldom striking at the heart of Grozny in recent years.
In August, however, a shootout in Kadyrov's home village between his guards and suspected insurgents left 19 people dead, including 5 civilians, raising fears of a reviving insurgency.
The provinces make up Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, which separatists strive to turn into an independent emirate that adheres to Sharia law. The insurgents are thought to be in a sporadic network of cells that shelter in the region's forested mountains.
There has been a spate of attacks originating in the North Caucasus this year. In March, suicide bombers from Dagestan detonated explosives in the Moscow subway, killing 40 people. Days later, similar bombings in the province itself killed several police.
Another suicide car bombing last month killed 17 people and wounded more than 140 in Vladikavkaz, another regional center in the North Caucasus.
These follow a multitude of high-profile terrorist attacks by Chechen rebels since the 1991 Soviet collapse, including the Beslan school siege in 2004 that ended in a bloodbath in which more than 330 people — about half of them children — were killed.