Russian police battle gunmen near school

Police and security forces on Thursday battled gunmen in the capital of the southern Russian region of Kabardino-Balkariya, including near a school near a police station.

A teacher from the school, who gave only his first name, Spartak, said the children had been evacuated. Black smoke billowed from the school as panic-stricken parents searched for their children in the schoolyard.

The Interfax news agency reported that security forces also repelled an attack against the city’s airport.

At least three alleged militants were killed, a duty officer at the southern Russian district office of the interior ministry said on customary condition of anonymity.

He said the fighting began after police in Nalchik received an anonymous tip by telephone that a group of about 10 armed militants had entered the city, and police and security forces launched a special operation to capture them.

A source in the Kabardino-Balkariya police department said on condition of anonymity that three police units in the city had been attacked by unknown assailants on Thursday morning.

A police officer was wounded in the fighting, said Marina Kyasova, a spokesperson for the Kabardino-Balkariya regional office of the ministry.

Intense shooting from automatic rifles and grenade launchers could be heard in the centre of the city. The North Caucasus department on fighting terrorism and city police unit number two are located behind School Number Five.

Interfax reported that gunmen had launched simultaneous attacks on the regional headquarters of the interior ministry and the Federal Security Service, as well as a number of other buildings.

Citing an unidentified source in law-enforcement structures, Interfax said that the battle was sparked by the detention of a group of adherents to the radical Wahhabi strain of Islam, and that the group’s fellow believers were trying to free them.

It said that federal forces had surrounded Nalchik.

Kabardino-Balkariya, along with other southern Russian regions, has seen a rise in Islamic extremist movements and violence targeting police, soldiers and other law-enforcement officials in recent years linked to the festering, decade-old guerrilla conflict in breakaway Chechnya.

In December, gunmen raided the regional branch of the federal Drug Control Agency in Nalchik, killing four employees, looting an arsenal and setting the office ablaze.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered security forces to deal more severely with suspected Islamic militants in the south.

Law-enforcement agencies have launched a series of sweeps targeting suspected extremists outside Chechnya.—Sapa-AP

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