The leader of Russia's troubled Chechnya region says security forces have killed 11 suspected militants in two clashes near the capital, Grozny.
Gunbattles, like the ones announced by Ramzan Kadyrov, used to be commonplace in the war-ravaged Russian region, but have become rare under Kadyrov's rule.
Kadyrov said in a post on the social-media network Instagram on December 18 that during the overnight clash, gunmen fired at police who tried to stop their vehicle. Police killed four gunmen and captured two others, who were hospitalized.
Later on December 18, he said, security forces tracked down other gunmen on the outskirts of Grozny and killed seven of them. Another four suspected militants have been captured, three of whom have been hospitalized, Kadyrov said.
A police officer was also wounded in the clash.
Kadyrov denied media reports claiming that there were more clashes and an explosion in Grozny itself, saying that security forces only engaged the militants only outside the city. He posted a video showing his troops firing their weapons and bodies of the militants lying in snowy fields and wooded areas following the clash.
"None of these devils will get out alive if they enter Grozny with weapons," Kadyrov wrote.
But video footage purportedly of the shoot-out was posted late on December 17 on YouTube, showing police firing automatic weapons on a blockaded thoroughfare in Grozny. That appeared to refute Kadyrov’s assertion that the clashes only took place outside the city.
Backed by generous financial support from the Kremlin and security forces known for rampant rights abuses, Kadyrov has largely succeeded in stabilizing Chechnya after two separatist wars fought in the 1990s and early 2000s.
He has also overseen a glamorous rebuilding of Grozny, a city of around 270,000 people, with high-rise skyscrapers now dotting the skyline, along with neatly manicured boulevards, and one of Europe’s largest mosques.
Any attack by militants that succeeded in penetrating the city’s security would be an embarrassment to Kadyrov.
While rampant violence and outright warfare has all but disappeared from Chechnya in recent years, other nearby North Caucasus regions continue to suffer from militant threats and terrorism.
And Chechen fighters are among the largest, and most potent, militant group fighting alongside Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Many analysts fear that as IS loses its clout, battle-hardened, Russian-speaking fighters could return to the North Caucasus and stoke new conflict.