Three suicide bombers blew themselves on Monday up as they tried to storm a police station in the usually peaceful region of southern Russia, police said.
No other casualties were reported in the incident which took place in Novoselitskoye village in the southern Stavropol region. “We were holding a meeting in the morning when five explosions went off,” Sergei Karamyshev, a senior local police official, told AFP.
“Three people blew themselves up after an officer on duty at the entrance blocked the door to the building,” he said. He said three of the explosions were caused by the suicide bombers, while a fourth was caused by a grenade while the source of the fifth blast was not immediately clear.
There was no immediate information on the identities of the bombers. Russia’s North Caucasus has been gripped by nearly daily violence for years due to a simmering Islamist insurgency there but attacks in southern Russia are extremely rare.
A regional police spokeswoman, however, said only one of the attackers had detonated an explosive charge while the other two assailants were killed by “return fire.” “They were shooting at the building,” Natalya Tyncherova told AFP, adding that the exact number of assailants was still unclear.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said efforts were under way “to understand what was behind” the attack, which is likely to be seen as a blow to the Kremlin’s prestige. “Was this a terrorist threat or gangsters? Without knowing the circumstances it is hard to say,” he told reporters during a conference call.
Regional investigators declined immediate comment. The attack took place after the Syrian army backed by Russian forces secured a hugely symbolic victory over Islamic State jihadists in Palmyra and is preparing to retake control of the northern city of Aleppo from rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
ISIS has vowed revenge after Putin launched a bombing campaign in Syria last September. In December, ISIS militants claimed responsibility for a deadly shooting in Derbent, a city in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan with an ancient citadel that is popular with tourists.