On Friday, police were trying to put down the last shows of resistance in the capital of Russia's Kabardino-Balkaria republic after more than a day of fighting that left at least 98 people dead.

 

Soldiers shot grenades through the barred window of a gift shop in the centre of Nalchik, then pulled out the hostages alive.

 

Three fighters were killed in the storming on Friday, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said.

 

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

 

Still holed up

 

However, Interfax reported later that two fighters were still holed up in the local office of the Russian prison administration. Nine hostages were freed from the building earlier on Friday, it said.

 

At least 98 people, including 72 attackers, had been killed in the fighting, according to a tally of accounts by officials, news reports and an Associated Press reporter.

 

It was unclear whether the fighters had any specific demands.

NTV footage shows injured
police officers being evacuated

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

 

"Fighters who try to attack Russian targets in future will be decisively crushed, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday after the Nalchik standoff was crushed.

 

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

Earlier, Itar-Tass said some attackers tried to escape the city in a van but crashed into a tree and were surrounded and killed. It was unclear how many fighters were in the vehicle.

Hostages exchanged

At a building housing the souvenir shop, wounded fighters released three hostages in exchange for water, but one of those freed said the attackers were still holding three captives.

The top regional official said fighters held five hostages at the police precinct building, and shots rang out late into the night while armoured personnel carriers drew close to the station.

Officials say 61 attackers have
been killed by security forces

At an emergency meeting early on Friday, hours before dawn, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev ordered police to step up efforts to "neutralise" the two remaining pockets of resistance, saying the five fighters in the police station had been urged to surrender, Russian news agencies reported.

After the heavy fighting that began on Thursday morning and lasted six hours eased, Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov said that 61 fighters were killed, some from Kabardino-Balkaria and some from other republics in the Russian Caucasus.

Russian and regional officials said 12 civilians and 12 police officers were killed.

Russian news agencies, citing figures from Russia's Centre for Catastrophic Medicine, reported that 13 people were killed and 116 others were hospitalised, but it was unclear whether those figures referred only to civilians.

Estimates of the number of attackers involved ranged from 60 to 300, and Interfax quoted an aide to the president of Kabardino-Balkaria as saying late on Thursday that 17 had been detained.

Suicide bombings

The Kavkaz-Center website, seen as a voice for rebels loyal to Chechen commander Shamil Basayev, said it had received a message claiming responsibility for Thursday's attack on behalf of the Caucasus Front.

It said the group is part of the Chechen separatist forces and includes Yarmuk, an alleged armed Muslim group based in Kabardino-Balkaria.

The strategy of launching simultaneous attacks on police facilities was similar to last year's siege in another Caucasus republic, Ingushetia, in which 92 people died and police armouries were looted. Basayev claimed responsibility for those attacks and the Beslan raid.

An overturned car lies on one of
Nalchik's streets after the clash

Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said suspects detained on Thursday said the offensive was carried out under orders from two wanted fighters - one of them a supporter of Basayev.

But armed forces chief of staff General Yuri Baluyevsky said he had no evidence Basayev was involved. Shcherbakov and another official said there was no evidence to support speculation Basayev had been killed.

Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin said Thursday's fighting began after police launched an operation to capture about 10 fighters in a Nalchik suburb, and that the attacks were aimed at diverting police.

All 10 suspects were killed, he said.

Police stations attacked

Armed men attacked three police stations, the city's airport and regional headquarters of the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service in the morning, a police officer said.

They also attacked the city's military commissariat, the officer said.

The attack at the airport was repelled, and the facility placed under military control.

The city of Nalchik was turned
into a war zone by the firefight

The fighters also attacked the regional headquarters of Russia's prison system, a government press office said.

A teacher who gave only his first name, Spartak, said children at his school had been evacuated from the building, near a police station and an anti-terrorism office at the centre of the attacks.

Black smoke billowed from the building as panic-stricken parents searched for their children.

Cars were overturned or gutted, and Russian television footage showed the bloodied bodies of what appeared to be attackers in the streets.