A group of 60 to 300 armed men attacked Nalchik, the capital of Russiaâ€™s Kabardino-Balkaria republic in North Caucasus, early on Thursday. The militants were divided into several mobile groups and attacked in several directions. The headquarters of the republicâ€™s interior ministry, federal security service and the military commissariat were the first to come under fire.
A local airport, TV center, police barracks and a hunting shop were also attacked, a source in a law-enforcement agency said.
There were reports of a school occupied by gunmen, but a source in the Russian Presidentâ€™s administration denied reports of children having been taken hostage in Nalchik. â€œThe attackers did not occupy any schools,â€ confirmed Zaurbi Nakhushev, a deputy of the state duma representing Kabardino-Balkaria, quoting his sources in the republic.
At about noon, Kabardino-Balkariaâ€™s prosecutor Yuri Ketov said the situation in the republic was under control of law enforcement and internal troops. â€œLaw-enforcement, intelligence and army troops fought the militants, repelling all of their attacks,â€ he said.
Eyewitnesses say the situation in the city is far from quiet, with shooting continuing and the bodies of the dead and wounded lying in the streets.
At 13:30, reports came that a battle was going on in the building of the Third Department of the cityâ€™s interior ministry. Local law-enforcement sources said the militants had seized several floors of the building, but the upper part was held by police officers.
Part of the bandits tried to leave the city. Citing law-enforcement sources, Channel One reported militants attempting to take local residents hostage and break through the police cordon, using them as a shield. Civilians are said to be leaving the city en masse. The police let them go but entry into the city is blocked.
Life is paralyzed in Nalchik, with public transport not operating, abandoned cars smouldering and several multi-story buildings on fire. Telephone communication with Nalchik was broken. Military helicopters are hovering over the southern part of the city.
The All-Russian Catastrophe Medicine Center told RBC that ten people had been confirmed killed in the attack, and seventy four wounded had been taken to hospital. Quoting its source in a local medical organization, Echo of Moscow radio said at least twenty had been killed â€“ thatâ€™s not including civilians, and about 40 wounded were hospitalized.
Arsen Kanokov, President of Kabardino-Balkaria, said about fifty attackers had been killed.
Local prosecutors opened a criminal case under articles on terrorism, criminal possession of firearms and attempt on the life of law-enforcement officials.
There are several theories as to what prompted the attack. Alexander Chekalin, deputy interior minister of the republic, suggested that the militants had staged an attack to free their comrade, a radical extremist arrested on Wednesday. He said up to 80 militants were involved in the attack, and about a dozen police officers had been killed in the operation.
In 2002, Nalchik had a population of about 300,000 people. It is a tourist center and a resort area