Russian airstrikes around Chechnya's capital killed at least five people today and sent thousands fleeing as the intensifying campaign heightened fears of another war in the breakaway region.
The bombings followed attacks Thursday in which Russian planes pounded targets in and near Grozny in the first major raid on the city since a 1994-96 war between Russian forces and Chechen separatists.
The Russian government says it is trying to destroy Islamic militants based in Chechnya who have twice invaded the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan since early August. The militants also have been linked to four apartment house bombings that have killed 300 people in Moscow and other Russian cities this month.
Chechnya has run its own affairs since winning de facto independence in 1996. Moscow still claims it as part of Russia and has struggled to keep violence from spreading to the rest of the Caucasus region.
The raids over the past 24 hours took out Grozny's oil refinery--a key component of the region's struggling economy--and paralyzed the Grozny gas distribution plant, Chechen energy officials were quoted as saying by the Russian Tass news agency.
Today's raids killed at least five people and injured at least 21, according to witnesses and local officials. The raids destroyed several apartment buildings and struck an abandoned military airfield.
Chechnya's envoy to Moscow, Mairbek Vachagaev, said in London today that nearly 300 people have died since the bombing campaign began and thousands more were injured.
Meanwhile, thousands were fleeing. This afternoon, 5,000 vehicles jammed a road leading to the neighboring region of Ingushetia. Some 300,000 Chechens are estimated to have fled their homes, the Chechen Ministry for Emergencies said, according to Russian Tass.