Rebel standoff smashed, 108 dead

`TOUGH AND CONSISTENT': Russian President Vladimir Putin warned insurgents that they could expect no mercy in future as he praised the security forces' actions

AGENCIES , NALCHIK, RUSSIA

Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 1

Russian security forces yesterday used an armored personnel carrier to smash through the wall of a store to save two hostages held by suspected Islamic militants as police stamped out remaining rebel resistance after more than a day of fighting that left at least 108 dead.

Soldiers shot grenades through the barred window of a gift shop in the center of Nalchik, then pulled out the hostages alive. Three militants were killed in the storming, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said.

By midday, the head of the regional government, Gennady Gubin, announced that all rebel resistance in the southern Russian city had been suppressed, all hostages had been freed and the city was being searched for rebels, the Interfax news agency reported.

Interfax reported later that 12 militants had been killed in the local office of the Russian prison administration, according to deputy administration chief Valery Krayev. Other news agencies reported that nine or 10 militants were killed there.

Nine hostages were freed from the building earlier yesterday, it said. Three police officers who had been held there were killed, the RIA-Novosti news agency said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned rebel insurgents yesterday that they could expect no mercy in the future.

Speaking after ministers gave him an official report on Thursday's raid on Nalchik that throws in doubt the Kremlin's control of the mainly Muslim Caucasus region, Putin said security forces had acted "coherently, effectively, toughly."

"Our actions must be commensurate with all the threats that bandits pose for our country. We will act as toughly and consistently as we did on this occasion," Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

The rebels' strategy has been to sow instability across the south, capitalizing on the turbulent Caucasus Mountain region's grinding poverty to swell their recruits, buying off corrupt officials to get weapons and unleashing terrorist bombings and hit-and-run attacks against police.

Kabardino-Balkariya President Arsen Kanokov told Interfax that close to 150 militants were involved in the attack and most of them were local residents.

"The population's low income and unemployment create the soil for religious extremists and other destructive forces to conduct an ideological war against us," Kanokov was quoted as saying.

At least 108 people, including 72 attackers, had been killed in the fighting, according to a tally of accounts by officials, news reports and a reporter. Twenty-four of the dead were law enforcement officers and 12 were civilians, RIA-Novosti quoted Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev as saying. The regional department of the Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 civilians had been killed and 139 had been wounded, ministry duty officer Sergei Petrov said.

Chechen rebels claimed involvement in the near-simultaneous attacks on police and security facilities that terrified the city of 235,000 and left corpses lying on the streets.

Thirty-one rebels were detained, RIA-Novosti quoted Nurgaliyev as saying. State-controlled Channel One TV showed alleged rebels lined up in a police station.

Bloodied bodies from Thursday's fighting still lay in the streets yesterday. A man's body lay near the entrance to police station No. 2 and the regional anti-terrorist center, where most of the windows had been blown out. Across the street sprawled seven more bodies, most with horrific head injuries.