Islamic militants launched a series of attacks Monday in Russia’s southern province of Chechnya, leaving five young militants dead and several police officers wounded, officials said.
The violence indicated the Islamist insurgency remains active in the mostly Muslim province despite authorities’ claims that it has been eradicated. It follows an attack on a Russian Orthodox church in May that left four attackers, two policemen and a churchgoer dead.
Chechnya’s regional leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, sought to downplay the attacks, saying they were quickly fended off by police. He insisted the young attackers were brainwashed by Islamic militants and don’t have any public support in Chechnya.
Dzhambulat Umarov, the information minister in the regional government, told the Tass news agency the attackers were between 11 and 16 years old. He said the Islamic State has increasingly focused on teenagers in its efforts to recruit supporters in the region.
The regional police said in a statement that two knife-wielding attackers broke into a police station in the southern town of Shali and stabbed two officers. Police shot and killed them.
In another clash in Shali, two attackers tried to blow up a truck loaded with gas canisters in a suicide attack, but the vehicle failed to explode, Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov said on Kommersant FM radio. He said the two were shot dead by police.
Russian news agencies also reported an attack in the village of Mesker-Yurt, outside Shali, in which an attacker blew himself up near a police checkpoint. Police were unhurt and Kadyrov said the suicide bomber survived and was hospitalized.
And in yet another attack in the regional capital of Grozny, an attacker driving a car hit two traffic police officers, injuring them, officials said. Police later shot and killed the driver.
The Kremlin has relied on the strongman Kadyrov to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars in the 1990s, and has provided generous subsidies to help rebuild the region.
International human rights groups, however, have accused Kadyrov of rampant rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings by his feared security forces.
Radical Islamic militants, some of whom have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, have conducted sporadic raids in Chechnya, defying Kadyrov’s assurances that the region is stable.