Rebel assault on Chechen leader's stronghold leaves at least 12 dead

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Chechen police killed 12 rebels as they repulsed a raid on the Moscow-backed president's home village yesterday, authorities said, an attack that broke a period of relative calm in the troubled Russian republic.

The Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, told state-run Rossiya-24 TV that he headed the operation to fight off the attack on his village of Tsentoroi, although it was not clear whether Mr Kadyrov was in the village at the time of the attack, or directing operations from the republic's capital Grozny, some 40 miles away.

Mr Kadyrov, who is himself a former rebel, has vowed to bring peace and stability to the republic which has experienced more than 15 years of sporadic conflict. Many of the neighbouring Russian republics in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus are also afflicted by simmering insurgencies and 10 rebels were killed in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria on Saturday.

While there were conflicting accounts of yesterday's assault, the fact that it happened at all challenges Mr Kadyrov's pledge to the Kremlin to maintain tight security in Chechnya."This raid is a message to President Kadyrov," said Grigory Shvedov, the chief editor of the internet news agency Caucasian Knot. "The sabotage looks quite successful, and is a sign that we could expect a surge in similar activities." The government said some 30 rebels attacked the village early yesterday morning and only a few rebels shooting a video of the raid managed to escape. Five civilians and two policemen were also killed in the attack, the regional news agency RIA reported, but it said it could not immediately confirm the toll of 12 rebel dead cited by Mr Kadyrov.

An Islamist website, www.kavkazcenter.com, challenged the official data saying that at least 15 of Mr Kadyrov's security officers were killed, while a total of 60 insurgents attacked the village. Five rebels were also killed, it said.

The insurgents spent about an hour rampaging through the village, the website said, citing local residents, and torched 10 houses it described as belonging to "Kadyrov's confidants". It was not clear whether Mr Kadyrov's own house was also set ablaze, it said.

Mr Kadyrov has been the target of a number of assassination attempts in the past 10 years, and Tsentoroi was raided by insurgents back in 2004, in what Mr Kadyrov said was an attack aimed at killing him.

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