GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Chechen police killed 12 rebels as they repulsed a raid on the Moscow-backed president’s home village on Sunday, authorities said, in an attack that broke a period of relative calm in the Russian republic.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov told state-run Rossiya-24 TV that he headed the operation to fight off the attack on his village of Tsentoroi and said 12 insurgents were killed.
It was not clear whether Kadyrov was in the village at the time or had directed operations from the capital Grozny, some 60 km (37 miles) away.
Kadyrov, a former Chechen rebel, has vowed to bring peace and stability to the republic which has seen more than 15 years of sporadic separatist conflict, but Chechnya is plagued by political murders and extrajudicial killings.
Many neighboring Russian republics in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus also face simmering insurgencies and 10 rebels were killed in Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria on Saturday.
While there were conflicting accounts of Sunday’s assault, the fact it happened at all challenges Kadyrov’s pledge to the Kremlin to maintain tight security in Chechnya, Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of internet news agency Caucasian Knot, said.
“This raid is a message to President Kadyrov, who thinks he is fully in control of the situation,” he told Reuters.
“The sabotage looks quite successful, and is a sign that we could expect a surge in similar activities further on.”
Some 30 rebels attacked the village early on Sunday morning, a source in the North Caucasus Federal District police in the nearby Stavropol region, told RIA news agency.
Kadyrov’s office said 12 insurgents were killed, and only a few of them, shooting a video of the raid, escaped.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in the North Caucasus Federal District said five police officers were killed and 17 wounded, with no civilian casualties reported.
Earlier, a source in the North Caucasus Federal District police had told RIA news agency that five civilians and two police officers were killed in the attack.
An Islamist website, www.kavkazcenter.com, challenged the official account, saying at least 15 of Kadyrov’s security officers were killed and 60 insurgents had attacked the village. Five rebels were killed, it said.
The insurgents spent about an hour rampaging through the village, the website said, citing local residents, and torched 10 houses it described as belonging to “Kadyrov’s confidantes.” It was unclear whether Kadyrov’s house was set ablaze, it said.
Kadyrov has been the target of a number of assassination attempts in the past 10 years, and Tsentoroi was raided by insurgents back in 2004, in what Kadyrov said was an attack intended to kill him.
Writing by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Michael Roddy