As many as 50 people died Thursday as alleged Chechen militants launched co-ordinated attacks against police and government officials in the troubled Caucasus region of southern Russia.
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Schools were evacuated and citizens sought cover as gun battles raged through the city of Nalchik in the republic of Kabardino-Balkariya.
Dead bodies could be seen lying in the streets for hours after the morning hostilities, initiated by about 100 armed men. Casualty estimates ranged from 13 to 50, including civilians, police officers and militants.
Fighting first broke out at Nalchik's airport, three police stations, and local security service offices. It spilled over into a regional prison headquarters and a hunting store, where the militants grabbed more weapons before taking cover in at least one school, reports CBC.
The gunmen have also stormed a police station and taken hostages, Dmitry Kozak, the Kremlin envoy to southern Russia, told state television. Efforts were underway to free them, he said.
"These were meticulously planned and synchronised attacks," a police source was quoted as saying by Tass which described the attackers as "religious extremists".
An unnamed military source was quoted as saying by Interfax: "Fighting is going on everywhere. The attackers are trying to seize cars and burst their way out of the town."
The shooting began in a suburb before moving to a school and airport as well as several other districts. About 150 rebels are believed to have taken part in the attacks.
A teacher from the school, who gave only his first name, Spartak, said the children had been evacuated. Black smoke billowed from the school as panic-stricken parents searched for their children in the school yard.
The school is in front of the North Caucasus department on fighting terrorism and a city police unit, informs Telegraph.