Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechnyan leader, has promised a harsh response after three suicide bombers blew themselves up in the southern Russian republic on Tuesday night, killing nine people and wounding 22.
One of the bombers detonated his explosives in Grozny, the capital, when two police officers asked to check his documents as he walked about 150 metres from the Chechen parliament.
The other two men set off their devices about 20 minutes later at the same spot as police and passersby gathered. Islamist rebel websites called the bombers martyrs. Seven of the dead were police officers and one was an official from the emergencies ministry. Sixteen of the injured were also police.
The attacks took place as Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, which is known as Uraza Bayram in Russia.
Kadyrov said the attackers were “zombified bandits” and “not people, but the devil incarnate”. He praised officers who had attempted to stop a terrorist attack “on the holiest day for all Muslims, [when] people forgive all wrongs, and help the poor, orphaned and sick”.
The explosions proved that “evil must be annihilated” and that a fierce and uncompromising battle was the only way to stamp out the rebels, Kadyrov added.
Russia has been fighting an increasingly radicalised Islamist insurgency in its North Caucasus republics since full-scale military operations against Chechen separatists ended a decade ago.
Several hundred people die in clashes and terror attacks every year, while the Islamists revived suicide attacks on civilian targets in 2009 after a lull. In one of the most devastating assaults, a bomber struck Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January this year, killing 37 people.
Doku Umarov, the Chechen leader of the insurgency, issued a statement a few hours before the Grozny attacks, saying he was ready to become a suicide bomber.
“Today, none of us knows how and when his life will end,” he said. “Allah be praised, I am ready for death at any moment, I am calm and do not worry about that. I am ready for death anywhere, even at the wheel of a Kamaz [truck] with an explosive device.”
However, the principal martyrs to the Islamist cause are likely to be young men, who commentators say are vulnerable to recruiting because of abuses by security forces, unemployment and poverty in the region.
Investigators named two of the bombers as Magomed Dashayev, 22, from the Chechen town of Urus-Martan and Adlan Khamidov, 21, a student at an oil institute in Starye Atagi, a village near Grozny.