At least three police officers have been killed in clashes with fighters who attacked a traffic post in the Chechen capital Grozny, and then stormed a building housing local media, Russian officials said.
Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency, quoting a regional law enforcement source, said several police officers were also wounded in Thursday’s attack.
“There are unconfirmed reports that the attacks were carried by Islamist fighters,” Al Jazeera’s Peter Sharp reported from Moscow.
The latest skirmishes in volatile Chechnya will be seen as a major affront to President Vladimir Putin who is set to deliver his annual state of the nation address later in the day.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee said that a group of assailants attacked a traffic post in Grozny in the early hours of Thursday and then stormed a building housing local media known as the Press House.
The fighters have now been blocked inside the building by members of the police and security services, it said.
Five policemen were killed and a dozen wounded in Grozny in October when they stopped a young suicide bomber from attacking a concert hall where thousands had gathered to mark a local holiday.
That blast, which shattered a period of relative calm in the region, sparked concerns of a new cycle of violence in the North Caucasus where the Kremlin has fought two wars with separatists over the past 20 years.
Putin has staked his political career on a promise to crush the bloody insurgency in the Caucasus.
When Putin turned 62 on October 7, more than 100,000 people, decked out in the colours of the Russian flag, marched in Grozny, led by Kremlin-backed regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov who carried a portrait of the Russian president.
Some 1,100 guests including top officials and lawmakers will attend Putin’s address to the nation which is expected to lay out Kremlin’s political and economic priorities during a bitter confrontation with the West over Ukraine.