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Russian Troops Comb Shattered City For Militants

    17 January 2021 Sunday

    NALCHIK, Russia Dozens of Islamic militants had just launched a bold daylight raid on this southern city, the family of Daniil Khamukov says, when the curtain installer said goodbye to his wife and two young children and headed for work.
    Soon after, his mother said, she saw him lying semiconscious in the courtyard outside his home, bleeding profusely from a broken arm. Paramedics refused to help, saying the 26-year-old was probably a militant.

    Seven hours later police in this town near Chechnya took him to a local precinct house. His mother, Zarema Valgasova, said she had heard nothing more about his fate.

    More than three dozen people have been caught up in the police dragnet looking for participants and conspirators in Thursday's assault that left at least 108 people dead in Nalchik and again underscored the volatility of the Caucasus region.

    Rights lawyers, and even the region's officially sanctioned Islamic leader, say police sweeps on suspected militants have caught up innocent, peaceful young Muslims, alienating and offending them as they rediscover their Muslim heritage.

    "They told us: 'They say he's one of the fighters. Let him die,"' Valgasova said.

    Authorities claimed that all pockets of active fighting had been crushed by Friday, and President Vladimir Putin promised all such violence will be put down "hard and consistently."

    As officials announced successful operations to liquidate rebels Friday, it became clear security forces had rescued nearly 20 hostages in various offices around the city -- and killed dozens of militants.

    The head of the regional government, Gennady Gubin, said Nalchik, a city of 235,000 people, was being searched for rebels, according to the Interfax news agency.

    "It is bad that such bandit raids are still possible here (in Russia)," Putin said. "It's a great tragedy that we are sustaining losses among law enforcement officers and peaceful civilians."

    Chechen rebels have claimed involvement in Thursday's attacks on police and security facilities. The fighting in the Kabardino-Balkariya republic near Chechnya has raised fears that Islamic militants who have been fighting Russian forces for most of the past decade were opening a new front in the troubled Caucasus region.

    Rebels for years have harassed Russian forces in Chechnya with roadside bombs and homemade explosives but the Nalchik attacks appeared to be part of a strategy to target areas outside the volatile republic and keep Moscow off-balance.

    Russian officials said the 2002 seizure of hundreds of people in a Moscow theater, the 2004 school hostage-taking in the southern city of Beslan that killed 330 and other terror attacks were conducted by the Chechen militants with support and guidance from the al-Qaida.

    However, no firm evidence exists suggesting the two groups are coordinating their strategies.

    Tensions are running high in Kabardino-Balkiriya republic, where poverty is grinding, corruption is endemic and the violence stemming from nearby, war-wracked Chechnya is spilling over with increasing frequency.

    The provincial president, Arsen Kanokov, blamed the attack on social conditions, which rebels have exploited to recruit and bolster their ranks.

    "The population's low income and unemployment create the soil for religious extremists and other destructive forces to conduct an ideological war against us," Kanokov was quoted by Interfax as saying.

    Bloodied bodies from Thursday's fighting still lay in the streets on Friday. A man's body lay near the entrance to police station No. 2 and the regional anti-terrorist center, where most of the windows had been blown out. Across the street sprawled seven more bodies, most with horrific head injuries.

    As security forces swept through the city, soldiers shot grenades through the barred window of a gift shop in the town center and used an armored personnel carrier to smash through the shop wall to save two hostages. Three militants were killed there, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said.

    Authorities elsewhere rescued four police officers from gunmen who had taken them along in a getaway attempt, Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov said. The militants were killed.

    At least 108 people, including 72 attackers, were killed in this week's fighting, according to a tally of accounts by officials, news reports and an Associated Press reporter. Twenty-four law enforcement officers were killed and 51 were wounded, Novikov said.

    Amid conflicting casualty tolls, the regional department of the Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 civilians had been killed and 139 wounded, ministry duty officer Sergei Petrov said. Other reports had put the number of civilian dead at 12.

    (© 2005 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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