GROZNY/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Gunmen stormed a building in Chechnya's regional capital of Grozny on Thursday killing 16 people, including 10 police, hours before President Vladimir Putin vowed in a policy speech to defend Russia against what he called efforts to dismember it.
Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on his Instagram account that "six terrorists were annihilated" after they had opened fire at a police patrol car, killing three officers and then stormed offices housing local media.
The attack by unknown gunmen underlines the fragile security situation in Chechnya more than a decade after Putin sent troops to quell a separatist Islamist insurgency there. "Those 'rebels' have again manifested themselves in Chechnya. I'm sure, the local guys, local low-enforcement bodies will cope with that... Let's support them," Putin said during his speech in Moscow.
He said Russia was surrounded by enemies who had sought to dismember it and destroy its economy. "This has not happened. We did not allow it." Ten policemen were killed and another 28 wounded in Thursday's attack, Russia's National Anti-terrorism Committee said. It said law enforcement officers killed some of the attackers.
A Reuters witness in Grozny said police had set up check points, urging people not to go outside or send children to school.
A spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow said an unspecified operation was still under way in Grozny, but gave no other detail.
GUNMEN HOLED UP IN SCHOOL
Russia's Tass news agency quoted Kadyrov as saying several gunmen remained holed up at a school in the city centre. There was no word of hostage-taking.
Kadyrov, attending Putin's address at the Kremlin later in the day, said that the gunmen were killed "in 15-20 minutes". "We didn't expect it to happen, the devils showed their last strength," he told reporters.
A video posted on YouTube showed what appeared to be footage of the clashes. It suggested the attackers had entered Grozny in an act of "retaliation" for what it called the oppression of Muslim women.
Kadyrov keeps a firm grip on Chechnya after separatist wars there in 1994-96 and 1999-2000, but an Islamist insurgency has spread across the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus, fuelled by a mixture of religious fervour and anger over corruption and alleged rights abuses.
In October, five policemen were killed and 12 were injured in Grozny when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device when officers approached him asking for identification papers.