Police, rebels among 7 killed in Chechnya church attack

Police, rebels among 7 killed in Chechnya church attack
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A suspected IS attack on a church in Chechnya has left seven dead including four assailants, reports said.
Policeman stands guard at Archangel Michael Church in Grozny, attacked by gunmen on Saturday [AP]
An attack on an Orthodox church in the mainly Muslim southern Russian republic of Chechnya on Saturday killed two policemen, a civilian and the four gunmen, officials said.

Chechnya's Moscow-backed regional leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, said the gunmen attacked the Archangel Michael Church in the center of Grozny, Chechnya's capital. He said on his blog that he personally oversaw a special operation in which all the assailants were killed.

The Investigative Committee, Russia's top investigative agency, said two police officers were killed and another two were wounded in the clash. One churchgoer also died and another one was wounded. The agency said the assailants were armed with guns and knives.

Kadyrov said the gunmen also carried axes and Molotov cocktails. He praised police officers who guarded the church for their courage and said the region would help the families of the officers who died.

Father Sergiy, the priest at Archangel Michael Church, said a service was being held when participants heard shots and chants of "Allahu akbar" outside. He told the Russian state RIA Novosti news agency they scrambled to shut the doors and secured the bolts just as the assailants tried to break in.

He said one parishioner who was outside was killed, while the person injured was inside the church.

The Chechen leader said three of the attackers were residents of Chechnya and one came from a neighbouring region. He alleged that intelligence data indicated they had received orders for the attack "from a Western nation."

Kadyrov, who is fiercely loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, regularly launches into diatribes about the United States and its Western allies, accusing them of trying to weaken Russia.

Kadyrov added that the rebels were also seeking "to take believers hostage" in the troubled republic where Russia has fought two fierce wars with separatists over the past 20 years.

After the first 1994-1996 conflict the region became increasingly vulnerable to Islamic extremist currents and unrest spread thereafter through the North Caucasus.

In June 2015, the rebels swore allegiance to Islamic State and the region has provided a steady stream of extremist combatants to both Syria and Iraq.

Saturday's attack underscored security challenges in Russia as it prepares to host soccer's World Cup next month.

The provincial capital of Chechnya, Grozny, is not scheduled to host any World Cup games, but the Egyptian team planned to use it as a training base.