Fighters from the Caucasus Emirate entered the Chechen capital of Grozny last night and launched a major assault on security forces and government buildings. The fighting, which lasted through the morning and is reported to have killed more than a dozen people, ended a relative lull in activity in the Russian Caucasus by the al Qaeda-linked jihadist group.
Heavily armed fighters entered the city at night and attacked a police checkpoint, the Press House, and a school, according to the Moscow Times. Videos posted by residents of Grozny show fighters exiting vehicles and fanning out across the city as well as volleys of gunfire.
The jihadists stormed the Press House, where various local media outlets are based, and took control of the building, which was eventually set ablaze during the fighting.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee reported that 10 policemen were killed and 28 more were wounded during the heavy fighting, ITAR-TASS reported. At least nine jihadists are also reported to have been killed during the assault.
A jihadist from the Caucasus Emirate claimed responsibility for the attack. A video and translation of the fighter’s statement was published by Kavkaz Center, a media arm of the group.
“We are the Mujahideen of the Caucasus Emirate in the Province of Chechnya,” the man states. “We entered the city of Jokhar [Grozny] by the order of Emir Khamzat. We are also under the oath of allegiance to Emir Abu Muhammad.”
The jihadist claims that “Scores of Mujahideen entered the city” and said the attack was executed as an “Act of Retaliation for Russian minions’ oppression of Muslim women, our sisters.”
“This is a martyrdom operation, and we will fight till the death,” he says.
The overnight fighting in Grozny is the first major attack in the Russian Caucasus carried out by the Caucasus Emirate since its former emir, Doku Umarov, was killed by Russia security forces in late 2013. Russian security forces heavily targeted the Caucasus Emirate in the run up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Additionally, large numbers of fighters loyal to the group have traveled to Syria to wage jihad against the regime of Bashir al Assad.
The Caucasus Emirate, which is now led by Ali Abu Muhammad, is responsible for numerous mass-casualty terrorist attacks in the Caucasus and in Russia, including in the capital of Moscow.
Before his death, Umarov said his group is “part of the global jihad,” in a July 2013 statement in which he called for attacks aimed at disrupting Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Although the Caucasus Emirate failed to launch operations in Sochi during the Olympics, the group executed three suicide attacks on transportation targets in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) in the months leading up to the games.
The Islamic Caucasus Emirate has close ties to al Qaeda. Some members of the group have fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the International Islamic Battalion, a unit comprised of Arab and other foreign jihadists that fights in the Caucasus, has been led by senior al Qaeda leaders. The top leaders of the International Islamic Battalion have included al Qaeda commander Ibn al Khattab (killed in 2002); Abu al Walid (killed in 2004); Abu Hafs al Urduni (killed in 2006); and and Muhannad (killed in April 2011).
Large numbers of jihadists from the Caucasus Emirate are currently battling alongside the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and the rival Islamic State.