Chechnya: Isis claims responsibility for coordinated attacks on police

Unconfirmed reports suggest several killed, including four of the five assailants 

Oliver Carroll
Tuesday 21 August 2018 03:44
Chechnya: Car ploughs into two traffic policemen in Grozny

A group of militants has staged a series of attacks on police in Chechnya — with Isis apparently claiming responsibility for the attack.

According to preliminary local reports, a group of five committed four attacks between Shali, the third-largest town in Russia's predominantly-Muslim region, and the capital, Grozny. Sources suggested an 11-year old boy was travelling as part of the group, and that the group may all have been related to one another.

The attacks began at 10.30am in Shali, when two men armed with knives - or according to some reports grenades - attempted to storm a police station. Police shot back. Not long after, a young man carrying a rucksack blew himself up as he approached traffic police in the village of Mesker-Yurt, four miles to the north.

Two attacks in the capital Grozny, 16 miles north-west, followed. First, there was a small explosion at a central city interchange. The explosive device seems to have been hidden inside a car. A short while later, a car ploughed into two traffic policeman; it is unclear if it was the same car.

A video of the latter incident shows police rushing towards the speeding vehicle, before trying - unsuccessfully - to jump out of its way.

According to unconfirmed reports four of the five attackers were killed. A fifth man, the suicide bomber, seems to have survived with serious injuries. News sites aligned to Islamic militants in the Caucasus claim several policemen were killed, but this has not been confirmed officially.

Citing militant-linked Amaq news agency, the SITE monitoring group reported Isis has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The tactics of the attack do seem to correspond to a standard pattern in the region, says Ekaterina Sokrianskaia, director at the Conflict Analysis and Prevention Centre.

“After the Caliphate was been crushed in the Middle East, Islamic State began to embrace lone-wolf, or small-group attacks, and using the cheapest of weapons,” she told The Independent. “Their followers are usually very young, much younger than Al Qaeda at least.”

Nestled in the mountains at Russia’s southernmost border, Chechnya has become synonymous with violent conflict. Following centuries of insurgency, and a brief Soviet interregnum, the region descended into two brutal civil wars with Russia in the 1990s. These killed hundreds of thousands and levelled the capital, Grozny.

In the “peace” that followed, Russia backed Ramzan Kadyrov, an erratic, autocratic warlord obsessed with martial arts and bling. Moscow may have got what it needed: loyalty, and outward stability. But Mr Kadyrov’s regime has been associated with human rights abuses, including the torture and murder of opponents and other “undesirables.”

Writing on the Telegram messenger app, supposedly banned in Russia, Mr Kadyrov condemned Monday’s attack. The attackers had “tried to create an impression of being able to commit military acts and terrorism,” he said. But they had failed; Chechnya was now “absolutely calm and stable.”

Today was far from the first event to have undermined Mr Kadyrov’s claims of stability. Only in May, four gunmen stormed a church in Grozny, killing three. That followed on from several attacks on Russian military police. Islamic extremists claimed responsibility for all the attacks.

Then and now, Mr Kadyrov's position was unthreatened. An uptick in terrorism is also likely to play directly into the strongman’s hand, says Ms Sokrianskaia.

“Low-intensity conflict has become been part of the local landscape,” she says. “Some degree of trouble means more support for security services in Chechnya. De facto, this means support for the private armies that report directly to Kadyrov.”

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