Three Dead In Chechnya Church Attack, Police Kill Attackers

Russia police shot dead four gunmen who attacked a Russian Orthodox church in the mostly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya.

Russia's Investigative Committee said in a statement that two police officers were killed and another two wounded in the May 19 clash that also left one churchgoer dead and another one wounded.

The committee added that the four assailants were armed with guns and knives.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted police in Chechnya as saying that the gunmen also carried axes and Molotov cocktails.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, told Russian media that the gunmen attempted to take people hostage inside the Archangel Michael Church in the center of Grozny, the provincial capital.

Kadyrov claimed he personally oversaw the operation in which all the assailants were killed.

Father Sergiy, the priest at the church, said a service was being held when churchgoers heard shots outside and chants of ""Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," in Arabic.

He told the Russian state RIA Novosti news agency that they shut the doors and secured the bolts just as the gunmen tried to break in.

The attack in Chechnya has highlighted security challenges in Russia as it prepares to host the World Cup next month.

Chechnya will not host any World Cup matches but will serve as a training base for the Egyptian national team.

Chechnya was the site of two post-Soviet separatist wars that spawned an Islamist insurgency across much of the North Caucasus.

Islamic militants in the region have mounted frequent attacks on police, moderate Muslims, and officials, and some have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

Russia estimates that some 2,000 of its citizens, mostly from the North Caucasus, have fought alongside IS in Syria.

Organized crime, business turf wars, political disputes, and clan rivalry also contribute to the bloodshed in the region.

Critics say Russian authorities and the government of Kadyrov sometimes use allegations of militancy as a pretext to crack down on opponents.

With reporting by AP and Interfax