VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia – Assailants armed with grenade- and rocket-launchers seized the Interior Ministry headquarters in Ingushetia, a Russian region bordering warring Chechnya, a ministry official said Tuesday. Attacks were also reported elsewhere in Ingushetia.
The Interior Ministry official said it was not immediately clear who the attackers were, but said some of them were shouting “Allahu akhbar” — a frequent cry of Chechnya’s separatist rebels ever since the once-secular fight came under the influence of radical Islam.
Fighting from the 4-year-old Chechen war has occasionally spilled into Ingushetia, highlighting the Russian military’s ineffectiveness against the rebels despite having heavier weapons and far superior manpower.
The attack on the ministry building in the city of Nazran began late Monday, the official said on condition of anonymity. He later said other attackers seized police buildings in Ordzhonikidzevskaya, just over the border from Chechnya, and in Karabulak.
There was no official word on casualties, but a Web site reported witnesses saying that bodies were lying around the Interior Ministry building.
The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that the building of the border guard service in Nazran and an Interior Ministry warehouse in the city were on fire.
Heavy shooting was also reported in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, which borders Chechnya to the east, the Interfax news agency said, citing an official of the local office of the Federal Security Service. However, shooting is common in Dagestan, and it was not immediately clear whether there was any connection to the attacks in Ingushetia.
The last major rebel incursion into Ingushetia was in October 2002, when a band of fighters attacked Russian forces well inside the republic near the village of Gaslashki, killing 17 servicemen.
On Monday, an official in the Moscow-backed Chechen administration said that six Russian soldiers had been killed in rebel attacks and explosions over the past day.