Six gunmen, three police killed in Russia's Chechnya, leader says

MOSCOW - At least six gunmen and three policemen were killed in gun battles in which a building was stormed in the Chechen capital Grozny on Thursday, the leader of the turbulent southern Russian region said.

The attack, before Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to deliver his annual state of the union address in Moscow, underlines the fragile security situation in Chechnya more than a decade after he sent troops to quell separatists there.

Chechnya's Kremlin-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on his Instagramm account that "six terrorists were annihilated" after they opened fire at a police patrol car, killing three officers, and then stormed offices housing local media.

A spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry in Moscow said an unspecified operation was still under way in Grozny, but gave no other details.

Russia's Tass news agency quoted Kadyrov as saying several gunmen remained holed up at a school in the city centre. It was not clear whether any hostages had been taken.

A video posted on YouTube showed what appeared to be footage of the clashes. It suggested the attackers had entered Grozny in an act of "retaliation" for what it called the oppression of Muslim women.

Kadyrov keeps a firm grip on Chechnya after separatist wars there in 1994-96 and 1999-2000, but an Islamist insurgency has spread across the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus, fuelled by a mixture of religious fervour and anger over corruption and alleged rights abuses.

In October, five policemen were killed and 12 were injured in Grozny when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device when officers approached him asking for identification papers.