Security forces in Chechnya killed four gunmen who attacked a Russian Orthodox church in Grozny on Saturday. The clash also resulted in the death of two police officers and a worshipper. The attack came as nearby Russia prepares to host this year’s World Cup soccer championship. Chechnya is a Muslim majority province of Russia that has faced years of separatist strife and war. It is ruled by a Muslim governer who is closely aligned with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The provincial capital of Chechnya, Grozny, is not scheduled to host any World Cup games. According to Putin ally and regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, the terrorists attacked the St. Michael Archangel Church in the center of Grozny. Kadryov claimed on his blog that he personally oversaw the operations that resulted in the terrorists’ death. 

According to Russian law enforcement authorities, two police officers were killed and another two were wounded in the clash. One member of the church congregation died, while another  was wounded. The assailants were armed with guns and knives. Kadyrov said the attackers also carried axes and gasoline bombs.

According to the pastor of parish, Father Sergei, he was presiding over a liturgy when he and the congregation heard gunshots and shouts of “Allahu akbar” outside. He rushed to bolt the doors just as the assailants tried to break in. The priest said that one parishioner who was outside was killed, while the person injured was inside the church. 

Kadyrov said three of the attackers were residents of Chechnya and one came from a neighboring region. He alleged that the terrorists had received orders for the attack “from a Western nation.”

Kadyrov regularly denounces the United States and its Western allies for supposedly plotting against Russia. Relying on Russian subsidies to stabilize Chechnya after two separatist wars in the 1990s, Kadyrov has used his feared security forces to crush rebels. He has been regularly accused of serious breaches of human rights, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

Muslim terrorists, some of whom are affiliated with ISIS, have conducted occasional raids in Chechnya, as well as frequent attacks in the neighboring province of Dagestan and other regions in Russia’s North Caucasus. Russia has also been the target of Muslim terror, including a bombing in St. Petersburg’s subway in 2017 that killed 16 and wounded more than 50 persons. St. Petersburg is one of Russia’s 11 host cities for the World Cup, while another host city,  Volgograd, was the target of twin suicide bombings in 2013 that killed 34 people.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said that the attack was an attempt to further sour relations between Christians and Muslims in the volatile North Caucasus region. "This inhuman and cynical exploit by terrorists... was aimed at shaking the peace and agreement between religions that is so valuable in the region, to sow enmity and fear among its residents," the patriarch said in a statement. The attack occured during the onset of Ramadan -- Islam's holy month of fasting. 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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