TSENTOROI, Russia (AP) — A shootout between the Chechen president's personal protection detail and suspected separatist insurgents left 19 people dead early Sunday, including five civilians, officials and media reports said.
At least 12 suspected insurgents and two security officers were killed when the rebels entered Tsentoroi, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's home village, his spokesman, Alvi Karimov, told the Associated Press. TV reports said five civilians were killed in the crossfire.
Mr. Kadyrov, who is thought to regularly supervise security operations in the field, was in the village at the time and directed the counter-offensive, Mr. Karimov said.
"We let them into the village so they couldn't escape," Mr. Kadyrov told Channel One television, which showed him examining the bodies of the suspected militants strewn across a road. "We forced them into a place where they could be eliminated," he said.
An AP reporter at the scene saw fire-ravaged and bullet-ridden homes, with body parts lying among the rubble.
Resident Vargan Edelgeriyeva, 48, said the gunbattle started at about 3 a.m. at a construction site about 150 meters away from Mr. Kadyrov's residence.
Militants entered local homes but were quickly surrounded, Mr. Edelgeriyeva said. In one house an insurgent detonated explosives, perhaps a grenade, killing himself and a 30-year-old resident, she said.
Police in 2009 averted a possible assassination attempt on Mr. Kadyrov, shooting dead the driver of a car suspected of containing explosives before he could reach a construction site where Mr. Kadyrov was due to make an appearance.
In a separate incident Sunday, security forces in nearby Dagestan province shot dead four suspected militants traveling in two cars when they refused to stop at a police checkpoint, according to police spokesman Magomed Tagirov. He said weapons were later found in the cars.
Russia's volatile North Caucasus suffers daily attacks by insurgents seeking independence from Moscow, but this weekend's bloodshed has been especially fierce.
On Saturday, nine suspected militants were killed in two separate shootouts with police in the Kabardino-Balkariya republic, while five suspected militants and two police officers were killed in another shootout in Dagestan.
Mr. Kadyrov previously fought on the side of the rebels but switched sides and was installed by the Kremlin as Chechen leader in 2007. Comparative peace has arrived in Chechnya and its capital, Grozny, since then, but rights activists say the price has been brutal.
They allege Mr. Kadyrov has directed widespread human rights violations, including abductions and summary executions of suspected rebels and sympathizers.
Associated Press writers Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, and David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.