Moscow: Authorities in Russia said gunmen travelling in several cars killed at least three traffic police officers at a checkpoint after midnight today in the capital of the restive North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.
Although unrest is common in Russia's North Caucasus, forceful security measures adopted by iron-fisted Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov have spared the city of Grozny of significant violence for several years.
The Moscow-based National Anti-terrorist Committee said in a statement that after the attack on the traffic police, gunmen occupied a publishing house in the centre of Grozny. It said security services, police and emergency services personnel surrounded the building.
Kadyrov said on his Instagram account, a social media website he regularly uses to issue public statements, that the traffic police officers were killed when they attempted to stop the cars carrying the gunmen.
State news agency RIA-Novosti later cited an unnamed law enforcement source as stating that five police officers were killed and that others were injured in the clash with the armed gang.
Life News, a news outlet believed to have links to Russian security services, cited law enforcement officials as saying about 15 people seized three cars yesterday in the village of Shalazhi and drove them to Grozny, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.
Kadyrov said in his statement that the group of gunmen that took over the publishing house was composed of about five or six people.
The National Anti-terrorist Committee said in its statement that a counter terrorism regime was imposed on the centre of Grozny. That officially allows heightened security measures to be enacted and the announcement typically indicates the imminent use of heavy force to quash unrest.
Multiple unconfirmed amateur pictures posted online appeared to show the publishing house occupied by the gunmen in flames.
Kadyrov said the situation was calm and that all essential public services would still be operating, but he urged Grozny residents to exercise caution.
"I ask residents in areas where (security) operations are being carried out to abide by safety measures, and not to go out onto the streets without cause or to go near their windows," he wrote.
"All the talk about the city being under the control of military is absolutely false."
The Kavkaz Centre website, which serves as a mouthpiece for Islamic militant groups operating in Russia's North Caucasus, was linked to a video message by an individual claiming responsibility for the attacks unfolding Thursday morning.