NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) - Armed men drove into Russia’s Ingushetia region and abducted up to 15 people including policemen from a checkpoint and a slot machine parlour, police and witnesses said on Friday.
Witnesses said the gunmen, dressed in camouflage, entered Ingushetia from neighbouring Chechnya late on Thursday and presented themselves as police officers. Chechen authorities said they had nothing to do with the raid.
Islamist groups fighting an insurgency in Ingushetia against Moscow’s rule frequently target gambling halls and shops selling alcohol, saying they contradict Islam.
The Kremlin has been struggling for decades to suppress armed rebellions in its north Caucasus region. Chechnya, scene of two wars, has been largely quelled but the violence has now shifted to Ingushetia, where shootouts and ambushes are common.
An Ingush police officer, who did not want to give his name, told Reuters the attackers drove to a checkpoint on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia at around 2300 (8:00 p.m. British time) on Thursday.
They disarmed the guards and took at least one Ingush policeman hostage, the officer said. He said they claimed to be Chechen police but did not present any documents to prove this.
They then headed to the Ingush village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya, about 1.5 km (1 mile) away, where they went into a slot machine hall and kidnapped more people, the Ingush police officer said.
“At this stage the investigation cannot give the precise number of those kidnapped. We still believe their number is between 10 and 15,” the policeman said.
“It is certain that there are several policemen among them, and their life is in danger.”
Some witnesses told Reuters they believed the gunmen had fled with their hostages in several cars in the direction of Chechnya, but other witnesses said they had driven deeper into Ingushetia.
Chechen authorities denied any involvement.
“The Chechen Republic’s Interior Ministry units have nothing to do with this incident and we have nothing to say in this respect,” a Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman said.
A duty officer at a Chechen police station at the Ingush border said “not a single security unit entered or left Chechnya last night.”
Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Caroline Drees
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.