|Special forces were sent in after gunmen stormed the Chechen parliament [AFP]|
At least six people have been killed and another 10 wounded after armed men launched an attack on the Chechen parliament.
A suicide bomber reportedly detonated explosives outside the building in Grozny, the Chechen capital, on Tuesday morning as deputies arrived for work.
Suspected separatist fighters then went on a shooting spree inside the building, killing three people, before being killed in a standoff.
Some reports suggested the attackers blew themselves up after special forces stormed the building.
An interior ministry official told local news agencies that an aide to the speaker had been wounded in the attack, while news agencies said up to 17 people had been injured.
Separatists have been fighting for independence in the Russian republic of Chechnya for nearly two decades.
‘Change in tactics’
Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader, said all parliament deputies were alive and had been removed from the parliament following the attack.
He said Chechen security forces had staged a 20-minute operation to kill the three fighters and free parliament employees from the building.
“All the militants who attacked the Chechen parliament have been killed by government forces,” Zelim Yakhikhanov, a spokesman for the parliament, told the AFP news agency.
“The operation is over and all the terrorists were liquidated, according to the Chechen interior ministry.”
Laurence Lee, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Moscow, said the attack could indicate a change in tactic by separatist fighters in the region.
“This does potentially signify change, it’s a direct attack on Moscow’s rule in Chechnya, very symbolic,” he said.
“Not just an attack on the Chechen leadership – but by proxy an attack on Moscow’s leadership.”
The attack was also symbolic as it came amid high security as the Russian interior minister visited Grozny.
“It’s a slap in the face for Ramzan Kadyrov,” Alexei Malashenko, an analyst at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, told the AFP news agency.
“The war is not finished if you can seize the parliament in the centre of the city. All Ramzan’s claims of victory over rebels are worthless.”
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s diplomacy chief, said she was “appalled” by Tuesday’s attack and pledged to strengthen co-operation with Russia to fight such attacks.
The Kremlin is struggling to contain an uprising in the North Caucasus, an area of impoverished, ethnically mixed provinces along predominantly Orthodox Christian Russia’s southern border.
Russia declared victory in its battle with Chechen separatists following two wars in the 1990s, but analysts say a wave of shootings and bombings over recent months show it has failed to tame the violence.
Fighting has also spilled over into the neighbouring provinces of Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia in recent years.
Local leaders say the insurgency is fuelled by desperate poverty, clan rivalries, rampant corruption and heavy-handed tactics by law-enforcement agencies.
In 2002 Chechen separatists seized a theatre in Moscow, holding 850 people hostage and demanding an end to the war. Around 120 hostages died.
In September 2004, armed men demanding Chechen independence seized a school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia, near Chechnya, resulting in the death of 330 people, more than half of them children.
Earlier this year two female suicide bombers killed 39 people at two crowded Moscow metro stations, an attack that Doku Umarov, the Chechen separatist leader, claimed responsibility for.