GROZNY, Russia — Islamic militants tried to blow up Chechnya’s parliament on Tuesday, leaving six people dead and 17 injured in a brazen attack that defied the Kremlin-backed government’s claims it had stabilized the volatile region.
In a clear challenge to the Kremlin, the raid in Chechnya’s provincial capital occurred just as Russia’s interior minister was visiting the city.
The three attackers drove to the tightly guarded parliament headquarters and managed to get inside. One suicide attacker blew himself up at the doors and another two ran into the building shouting “Allahu akbar!” — “God is great!” in Arabic — as they opened fire on the people inside, said Chechen police spokesman Ramzan Bekkhoyev.
The regional prosecutor’s office said the remaining two attackers also blew themselves up after exchanging fire with police, while other officials said they were killed in a gunbattle. The raid left two police officers and a government employee dead and 17 others injured, prosecutors said.
Stains of blood, body fragments and a decapitated corpse were still scattered outside Parliament hours after the attack as police and special forces backed by armoured vehicles patrolled the area.
Chechnya’s Moscow-backed regional president, Ramzan Kadyrov, sought to downplay the attack, saying the assailants were quickly killed. His office said Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev called him to offer assistance. Medvedev, on a visit to France on Tuesday, was briefed about the attack by Russian security officials.
The White House condemned the attack and offered condolences to the families of the dead and wounded.
“Terrorism is unacceptable in any form,” said Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the National Security Council. He added the United States was working with Russia to fight terrorism and protect “the innocent who always suffer from its brutal tactics.”
Kadyrov and Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev attended a parliament session shortly after the raid. Nurgaliyev said the insurgents had tried to get into the main parliamentary hall.
“As always, they failed. Unfortunately, we were not able to avoid loss of life,” he said. “The situation we saw today is extremely rare. Here, there is stability and security.”
Russian troops retreated in humiliation after the first 1994-96 separatist war in Chechnya left the region de-facto independent and largely lawless. The Russian army rolled back into Chechnya in 1999 following a rebel incursion into a neighbouring province and attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities blamed on the militants.
While large-scale battles in Chechnya ended years ago, hit-and-run raids by the rebels have continued. In August, a shootout in Kadyrov’s home village between his guards and suspected insurgents left 19 people dead, including 5 civilians.
Rights activists have accused security forces and paramilitary units under Kadyrov’s command of extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and torture of rebel suspects and their relatives.
Kadyrov, a former Chechen rebel himself, has recruited many of the former militants into his feared security forces. The bullnecked 34-year-old former militia chief has also sought to blunt the rebels’ appeal with a massive construction boom and a campaign to impose strict Islamic values.
Islamic insurgents have spread quickly across neighbouring provinces in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, which separatists strive to turn into an independent emirate that adheres to Sharia law. The insurgents are thought to be in a sporadic network of cells that shelter in the region’s forested mountains.
They struck in the heart of Russia in March, when suicide bombers from Dagestan detonated explosives in the Moscow subway, killing 40 people and wounding about 100. Last month, a suicide car bombing killed 17 people and wounded more than 140 in Vladikavkaz, a major city in the North Caucasus.
These bombings followed numerous other terror attacks by Chechen rebels since the 1991 Soviet collapse, including the Beslan school siege in 2004 that ended in a bloodbath in which more than 330 people — about half of them children — were killed.
Shuster reported from Moscow. Associated Press Writers Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, David Nowak and Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow.