Russian police battled Islamic terrorists in the Chechnya city of Grozny Thursday, and now authorities fear that ISIS may be linked to the bloody assault that killed 14 police officers and raised concerns that the volatile region may be on the brink of another war.
At least 11 militants stormed buildings and opened fire on police in the capital of the semi-autonomous region, setting off gun battles throughout the center of the city that lasted into Friday. The militants occupied the headquarters of a publishing house as well as a school — before being, as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov put it, “liquidated” by security forces.
According to the Russian Interior Ministry, 11 of the Islamic militants died in the fighting, as well as 14 police — but 28 more police officers were injured in the terror attack, some seriously. At least 12 of the officers were taken by airlift to Moscow more than 900 miles away, for treatment.
But Russia has not issued updates on the wounded officers.
During the fighting, Kadyrov posted a picture on his personal Instagram account of what he said was a militant killed in the fighting, with the caption, “dogs are dying like dogs!”
But who was behind the terror attack that shattered claims by Russia and Chechnya’s leadership that the strife-torn region had quelled its anti-government insurgency and finally attained a state of relative stability?
While the attack was still underway, a short YouTube clip appeared claiming credit for the attack. The clip was quickly removed by YouTube. In the video, a man, who said he was one of the militants then still fighting in Grozny, claimed the attackers were acting on orders from Amir Khamzat, a top commander in the Caucasus Emirate, the leading insurgent group fighting in Chechnya.
The alleged fighter in the video said that the attackers were devotees of Islamic extremist theologian Ali Abu-Muhammad, who took over as leader of the Caucasus Emirate after the group’s previous leader Doku Umarov was killed by Russian special forces last year.
But Chechen leaders dismissed the video as a fake, recorded long before the attack. Kadyrov said on Friday, according to the Russian news agency TASS, that he believed Umarov’s brother, who now lives in exile in Turkey, was behind the attack — in which the insurgents had reportedly planned to meet up with a larger force of terrorists who would then stage an even larger assault that either never materialized or may still be yet to happen.
The Caucasus Emirates insurgent group has suffered an internal split this year, experts say, with one faction of the group joining forces with ISIS.
According to a report in The New York Times, “no one has ruled out an Islamic State role in Thursday’s assault,” and Russian President Vladmir Putin in a speech Friday suggested a foreign role in the terror attack.
In September, ISIS miltants in Syria released a video threatening Putin and Russia with attacks in retaliation for Putin’s support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and promising to “liberate” Chechnya from Russian control.