Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chechen Rebels Stage Bold, Bloody Attack on City Inside Russia

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Chechen Rebels Stage Bold, Bloody Attack on City Inside Russia

Article excerpt

About 100 pro-Chechen commandos bluffed their way past border guards Wednesday and stormed a Russian provincial city, leaving the streets littered with dead and wounded and grabbing from 200 to 300 hostages.

The attackers threatened to kill their hostages - including schoolchildren - unless Russia immediately stopped all combat activities in Chechnya, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Russia responded by putting its security forces in the north Caucasus region on full battle alert and closing all airports in the area.

The incident marked the first time in the six-month fighting in Chechnya that the secessionist-minded rebels have made a cross-border strike into the Russian heartland.

Some of the guerrillas talked their way past Russian border guards by saying their two heavy trucks were carrying "cargo 200," a secret code name used by Russian forces to denote bodies of Russian soldiers killed in Chechnya. Other guerrillas reached Budyonnovsk, a city of 100,000, aboard two buses.

The attackers divided into groups of 10 to 15 men equipped with assault rifles, grenade launchers and radios, security officials said.

Clearly intent on sowing panic, they sprayed gunfire, blew up a passenger bus, ran over pedestrians and set houses and cars ablaze, then shot at firefighters trying to douse flames.

Some news reports said at least 15 and perhaps as many as 40 people were killed in the daylight assault. But Russian television reported that between 50 and 200 people had been killed, including 17 of the attackers. "Bodies of women and children were lying in the streets," the independent NTV News reported. Casualty Figures Vary

Russia reported 20 police officers killed, while the Interfax news agency said 17 gunmen and at least 20 civilians had been killed. …

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