VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- In coordinated attacks, heavily armed militants attacked police headquarters, border checkpoints, and government offices in a Russian region bordering warring Chechnya, killing three high-ranking officials and at least nine others, authorities said today.
The fighters seized the Interior Ministry in Nazran, the largest city in Ingushetia, and attacked the border guards' headquarters there as well as in two villages near Chechnya shortly before midnight yesterday, emergency officials said.
Ingushetia's Health Ministry said 47 wounded had been admitted to hospitals and six of them had died. The ITAR-Tass news agency, citing Ingush law enforcement officials, said five of the dead were policemen.
Witnesses reported at least six more people dead in an attack on a border guards' post on the outskirts of Nazran.
"There are a lot of casualties, both from the law enforcement side and among civilians," Ingush President Murat Zyazikov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
An official from the Ingush Interior Ministry said it was not immediately clear who the attackers were, but said some of them were shouting "Allahu akhbar" -- a frequent cry of Chechnya's separatist rebels as their insurgency increasingly comes under the influence of radical Islam. Police estimated that up to 100 militants, armed with grenade- and rocket-launchers, were involved in the assaults.
Dozens of Russian antiterrorist special forces officers and hundreds of servicemen headed into Nazran from neighboring North Ossetia in a long column of armored personnel carriers and army trucks shortly after dawn today. Inside the city, firefighters fought blazes at the Interior Ministry and its weapons storehouse.
Fighting from the near five-year Chechen war has occasionally spilled into Ingushetia, highlighting the Russian military's ineffectiveness against the rebels despite having heavier weapons and far superior manpower.
The last major Ingush incursion was in October 2002, when fighters killed 17 Russian troops.
The latest attack comes after recent statements by separatist leaders indicating plans to step up military actions outside of Chechnya.
A three-man crew from Russia's NTV television came upon some of the presumed attackers, wearing masks and speaking accented Russian, at a border crossing as the crew tried to enter Nazran from North Ossetia.
"Out of the dark, a voice says 'Stop, put your hands on the hood,' said NTV correspondent Maxim Berezin. "A man carrying an automatic weapon came up. 'Who are you?' "
"Then he said, 'Say that we are the Martyr's Brigade. . . . We have shot everyone here. Go and announce that.' "
Acting Ingush Interior Minister Abukar Kostoyev was wounded in the first minutes of the fighting in Nazran and was taken to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia, where he died, the Ingush Interior Ministry official said.
A convoy of three ambulances later could be seen speeding into Vladikavkaz from Ingushetia.
Ingush emergency officials said that the health minister and a deputy interior minister of Ingushetia had also been killed in the fighting in Nazran.