MOSCOW — The capital of Chechnya, Grozny, seemed to blow up around 1:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. News about hundreds of insurgents occupying schools, kindergartens and other state buildings and killing traffic policemen on the way into the city appeared on social networks and was passed from mouth to mouth. Artillery fire could be heard in Avtozavodsky district, on Chernyshevskogo and Putin avenues in downtown Grozny.
Inevitably, some of this may have been exaggerated in social media. But there is no question that a new battle has begun in an old war that Moscow—and many in Grozny—had hoped was over. Analysts also are raising the possibility that the so-called Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, may have, at a minimum, ideological links to the attackers.
The editor-in-chief of the Caucasian Knot Internet site, Gregory Shvedov, told The Daily Beast on Thursday that the assault on Grozny was one more episode in series of terrorist incidents in Chechnya this year: “The underground intends to demonstrate that the existing security system is not effective,” Shvedov said. “We reported a split in the ‘Caucasus Emirate’ with some insurgents joining ISIS.” But it is not clear if the latest action is at the hands of that faction or another. “There is still a question who really was behind the current attacks,” said Shvedov.
Early this morning, Moscow’s key leader in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, posted an Instagram photograph of a corpse. In the caption Kadyrov said that an anti-terror special operation was coming to the end and that six insurgents were killed at Dom Pechati, a government building in the city center: “Dogs die a dog’s death! Not a single bandit will be able to escape! I personally command this operation.” Kadyrov also asked locals not to leave their homes. Later in an Echo of Moscow interview Kadyrov said that the operation would be over in 20 minutes.
Hours passed, but the fighting continued. By noon, Russian officials reported four dead and dozens wounded. Dom Pechati looked burned out after the night of fighting. “I hear constant mortar, gun shots—this is the first such huge scale insurgency attack on Grozny since August 6, 1996,” Milana Mazayeva, on the scene, told The Daily Beast.
The attack came few hours before president Vladimir Putin was due to deliver his annual speech to the Federation Council, and the terrorists released their own video “Mujahideen address about the fighting in Jokhar” (the Islamist name for Chechnya). On it a young beardless man speaks Chechen and Arabic with a soft accent. He says that Amir Khamzat ordered “mujahideen of the Caucus Emirate ” to enter Grozny and that it was a “vendetta act” in response to non-believers humiliating Muslim women. Kadyrov had promised to detain Muslim women wearing veils that cover their faces.
“This is a shahid [martyrdom] operation and we are going to fight until we die,” the man in the video said. “We already have results: we destroyed many vehicles, military convoys, seized many trophies.”