MOSCOW (AFP) – Top Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility in an Internet message for raids on the southern Russian city of Nalchik that left more than 100 people dead.
"I was responsible for the general operational guidance" of the attacks on Nalchik, a message posted on a web site regularly used by Chechen rebels quoted Basayev as saying.
Russian officials have said they killed 92 gunmen in two days of fighting in Nalchik, in the North Caucasus region, but the message attributed to Basayev said there had been only 41 fatalities among the militants.
Basayev said the militants had killed around 140 Russian security personnel. Russian officials have said 33 security personnel were killed, along with 12 local civilians.
Basayev said the attacks in Nalchik had been carried out by 217 "mujahedeen" of the rebel Caucasus Front and had targeted 15 "military objectives" — each of which was specificially identified in the statement — representing various branches of Russia”s security forces.
He said losses among the gunmen were due to a "major information leak" five days ahead of the the attacks last Thursday, which had permitted the security forces of the "infidels" to sent elite troop reinforcements to the city.
"On 11 and 12 October, they even brought tanks and armored vehicles in. But the mujahedeen, in a meeting held on the 11th, refused to delay the operation and they carried out as planned on the morning of the 13th" the attack in the city.
Referring to the Arsen Kanokov, the leader of the province of Kabardino-Balkaria where Nalchik is located, Basayev said: "We did not attack Kanokov only because he ordered the reopening of mosques, and this in fact saved his life."
He said the rebel gunmen withdrew from Nalchik "back to their base" exactly two hours after carrying out the attacks.
Russian security forces exchanged gunfire with pockets of trapped gunmen on Thursday and Friday well beyond two hours after the launch of the attacks at around 9:15 a.m. (0515 GMT).