Russian President Vladimir Putin said on state television, ”Our actions must be commensurate with all the threats that bandits pose for our country. We will act as toughly and consistently as we did on this occasion.”
Chechen insurgents on Thursday launched a series of raids on police and army buildings in the Kabardino-Balkariya republic near Chechnya, raising fears that Islamic militants who have begun fighting Russian forces for most of the past decade are opening a new front in the Caucasus region, according to the Associated Press.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, the rebels had overwhelmed at least one police station and taken hostages, while officials reported other scattered attacks around town.
Putin ordered his security forces to cordon off the city and kill any gunman who put up resistance, Interfax news agency reported.
Chechen separatists, whose previous strikes have included suicide bombings and hostage-taking, quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks.
“Forces of the Caucasus Front — a unit of the Chechen Republic’s Armed Forces — went into the town, including attack brigades from the Kabardino-Balkarian Yarmuk (Islamist brigade),” a statement on a pro-Chechen Web site said.
The coordinated attack marked the first major rebel operation since Abdul-Khalid Sadulayev took over as leader of the Chechen separatists in March.
The former leader, Aslan Maskhadov, was killed in a “special operation,” Russian military officials announced March 8.
On Sept. 1, 2004, Chechen militants took about 1,200 children and adults hostage at a school in Beslan. The siege ended when Russian special forces stormed the building.
Putin’s hard-line stance on Chechnya helped raise his popularity among Russians and bring him to power in early 2000.