Four gunmen stormed a church in Russia’s predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya on Saturday, killing at least one churchgoer and two police officers, according to authorities.
All the attackers were killed in an exchange of gunfire with the police at the Archangel Michael Church in the center of Grozny, the capital, according to the Investigative Committee of Russia, an internal security agency.
The gunmen initially took hostages, the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, said, adding that the assailants were armed with knives, hatchets and homemade explosives as well.
It was not immediately clear whether there was any link between the attackers and extremist groups. But Chechnya has experienced attacks by Islamist extremists before, including those who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Women and men from majority Muslim areas of Russia, including Chechnya, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State there, and dozens have begun to return as the group has lost most of its territory.
The restive region of Chechnya was the site of two separatist wars in the 1990s. Following those conflicts, Mr. Kadyrov, with the backing of the Russian government, has cracked down on dissent. Human rights groups have accused his forces of abuses including torture, kidnapping and murder.
Grozny once had a substantial ethnic Russian, Christian population but most of them fled during the wars. The church that was attacked Saturday is in the center of the city and was at the heart of some of the battles of the 1990s.
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SOURCE: New York Times, Ivan Nechepurenko and Megan Specia