Chechen security forces have killed up to 20 anti-government fighters in a helicopter gunship attack, according to the region’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
The raid took place in a mountain area outside the village of Shalazh, 30km southwest of the captial Grozny, the Chechen government statement said on Saturday.
Kadyrov, whose region has suffered a sharp rise in attacks this year, said he believed one of those killed might be Doku Umarov – who had declared himself the head of a “North Caucasus emirate”.
“We cannot confirm he has been killed until an autopsy is carried out on the fragmented bodies of the militants,” Kadyrov said in comments posted a government website.
He also said government forces suffered no casualties.
Special forces troops launched their ground operation on Friday after helicopter gunships opened fire on suspected anti-government forces, Kadyrov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
It was not immediately possible to confirm the government’s account of the attack.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, said on Thursday that instability in the North Caucasus region – which includes Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia – was Russia’s biggest domestic problem.
The patchwork of republics along Russia’s southern flank has seen a wave of attacks in recent months that local leaders say are fuelled by a potent mixture of clan feuds, poverty, Islamism and heavy-handed tactics by law enforcement agencies.
spotted by RS