Russian soldiers and police combed through a city of shattered glass and bloodstains, searching for alleged Islamic militants who launched a series of fierce attacks that left at least 108 people dead.
Authorities claimed that all pockets of active fighting had been put down a day after the attacks on the Caucasus Mountains city of Nalchik began, but concern was high that fighters could have melted into the civilian population to regroup.
President Vladimir Putin promised that Russia would put down all attacks "hard and consistently," but the bloodshed underlined how violence in the restive Caucasus region is spreading.
As officials announced successful operations to liquidate rebels on Friday, it became clear that militants had taken at least 18 hostages in various offices around the city.
Soldiers shot grenades through the barred window of a gift shop in the town center, and security forces used an armored personnel carrier to smash through the shop wall to save two hostages. Three militants were killed there, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said.
Four police officers whom gunmen had taken with them in a van in a getaway attempt were rescued unharmed and the militants were killed, Deputy Interior Minister Andrei Novikov said.
By midday, the head of the regional government, Gennady Gubin, announced that all rebel resistance in the southern Russian city had been suppressed, all hostages freed and the city was being searched for rebels, the Interfax news agency reported.
Interfax reported later that 12 militants had been killed in the office of the Russian prison administration, according to deputy administration chief Valery Krayev. Other news agencies reported nine or 10 militants were killed there.
Nine hostages were freed from the building earlier Friday, Interfax said. Three police officers who had been held there were killed, the RIA-Novosti news agency said. The president of Kabardino-Balkariya, Arsen Kanokov, blamed the attack on social conditions, which rebels have capitalized on.
The attack came amid a long-running regional campaign aimed at undermining nascent Islam extremism, which Russian officials describe as "Wahhabism," a term stemming from the austere Islamic sect with origins in Saudi Arabia. Rights lawyers, and even the region's officially sanctioned Islamic leader, say the campaign has caught up innocent, peaceful young Muslims, alienating and offending them as they rediscover their Muslim heritage.
At least 108 people, including 72 attackers, were killed in this week's fighting, according to a tally of accounts by officials, news reports and an Associated Press reporter. Twenty-four law enforcement officers were killed and 51 were wounded, Novikov said.
Amid conflicting casualty tolls, the regional department of the Emergency Situations Ministry said 18 civilians had been killed and 139 wounded, ministry duty officer Sergei Petrov said. Other reports had put the number of civilian dead at 12.
Chechen rebels claimed involvement in the near-simultaneous attacks on police and security facilities that terrified the city of 235,000 and left corpses lying on the streets. But Novikov told reporters in Nalchik that two-thirds of the more than militants, mostly aged 20-30, were local residents, the rest being from other Caucasus republics, AP reports.
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18