Russian hostages freed in raid

Troops used grenades and automatic weapons in an assault on a local police station where rebels were holed up, a day after guerrilla attacks on police and government buildings in the city which left at least 85 people dead.

Russian forces also reportedly led an assault on a souvenir shop held by gunmen, said the RIA-Novosti news agency, with two gunmen killed in the operation.

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov after the operation said troops had killed eight gunmen and freed five hostages, according to a report by the Interfax news agency.

A police source quoted by the ITAR-TASS news agency said the gunmen were killed while attempting to flee in a van.

Up to 1,500 Russian troops and 500 special forces soldiers have been sent to Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria province.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered anyone resisting arrest to be shot, after Nalchik was sealed off.

“The siege was lifted, the militants eliminated and the hostages freed,” said Mr Kolesnikov.

Friday’s operations come a day after between 80 and 300 armed militants launched simultaneous attacks on government installations in Nalchik, triggering fierce street battles that left dozens dead.

A RIA-Novosti report said 24 police and troops died in the violence and quoted the interior ministry as saying 61 gunmen had been killed.

There have been a number of reports that 12 civilians also died, however none of the figures have been independently verified.

Thursday’s lightening operation targeted police stations, ministerial and security offices and a private armoury in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, one of seven Caucasus republics belonging to the Russian Federation.

Kabardino-Balkaria is one of seven Caucasus republics belonging to the Russian Federation, Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia being among the others.

A website frequently used by Chechen rebels, Kavkazcenter, said Thursday’s attack was carried out by a unit of the local detachment of the armed Chechen rebel forces, which it identified as the “Yarmuk Jamat of Kabardino-Balkaria.”

Thursday’s attack, the most spectacular since the mass hostage-taking at a primary school in Beslan in September 2004, was the latest in a series by rebels on Russian federal security installations in the volatile North Caucasus region.

Local authorities have linked Thursday’s attack to their efforts to crack down on Islamic radicals in the region.

The rapid response from authorities is in stark contrast to last year’s drawn-out operation in Beslan, which is about 100 kilometres away.

However the crackdown has drawn sharp criticism from Russian media, with reports saying the Nalchik attack demonstrates the six-year Chechen war is spilling over into other parts of the volatile North Caucasus region, and security forces are incapable of preventing rebel attacks.

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