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Gunmen Kill 46 in Russian Republic Bordering Chechnya

June 22, 2004|Kim Murphy | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — Chechen rebels launched a massive overnight attack Monday on police facilities in the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia, killing 46 people including the region's interior minister, two public prosecutors and at least 18 police officers, authorities said.

Interfax news agency reported that at least 30 others were wounded in the gun battles. Two rebels were among the dead, the news agency reported.

In the worst outbreak of violence around the breakaway Chechen republic in months, police said more than 100 gunmen attacked the Interior Ministry in the city of Nazran and two other locations before midnight.

Gun battles raged throughout the night, and it took the arrival of a convoy of military vehicles from the neighboring republic of North Ossetia to repel the attack.

"Thank God the firefight is over now. But the picture that you have in Nazran and two other places that were attacked makes your hair stand on end," Musa Tochiyev, advisor to the Ingush president, said in a telephone interview early today. "We have never had a tragedy like this before. We have never had so many people killed in a matter of a few hours before."

Ingushetia borders Chechnya, where rebels have been battling the Russian government for independence for a decade. Most of the thousands of refugees who had sought shelter in Nazran and surrounding towns returned to Chechnya in recent months as the fighting there subsided, but Ingushetia continues to experience occasional clashes.

Russian Interior Ministry officials said they believed the gunmen were allied with Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

The scale and organization of the attacks, which centered in Ingushetia's largest city and the towns of Karabulak and Sunzha, made it clear the rebels can still launch major attacks.

Authorities said the attackers briefly seized the Interior Ministry headquarters in Nazran, killing acting Interior Minister Abukar Kostoyev, along with Nazran city prosecutor Mukharbek Buzurtanov and Nazran district prosecutor Bilan Oziyev.

Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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