Nalchik, Russia Hundreds of black-clad, mostly elderly people gathered Sunday outside the prosecutors' office in the southern Russian city of Nalchik, demanding the release of the bodies of relatives killed during a raid by alleged Islamic extremists.
Many feared they would never see their relatives' bodies. According to Russian law, terrorists' bodies are not returned to their families and some in the crowd alleged that their relatives had been unfairly identified as participants in the militant raid.
"Give back the bodies of our children so that we can bury them," said a petition the crowd passed to prosecutors.
The demand came two days after militants attacked police and government buildings in Nalchik, sparking fighting that killed at least 139 people, including 94 alleged attackers, according to official tallies.
Asya Zhekamukhova, 21, said she wanted to collect the body of her husband, Vadim Zhekamukhov, who worked as a driver for a veterinary clinic. When the shooting started, he rushed to a school to pick up his nephew and was killed, she said.
"He was not a Wahhabi. He despised them," Zhekamukhova said, using the usual term for Islamic extremists in Russia. "He never carried any guns, but when we found his body there was a gun lying nearby."
A delegation of three elderly men presented the petition to prosecutors. Deputy regional prosecutor Asker Masayev asked the crowd to return home and wait until today because investigators were still working to separate the bodies of the attackers from other victims, said Mukhamed Zhekamukhov, one of the three elderly men and a relative of the slain driver.
At Nalchik's main morgue, another crowd of hundreds of agitated relatives waited for victims to be identified or to collect their bodies for burial. Police and security officers stood by.
Nalchik is the capital of the Kabardino-Balkariya region, which has been long rattled by spillover violence from nearby Chechnya, as well as local criminal elements. Earlier this year, Nalchik police twice launched assaults on alleged Islamic militants holed up in apartments.
Thursday's assaults in Nalchik were the first such brazen raids in the region, with scores of young men launching a daylight attack, apparently seeking to seize weapons and ammunition. A similar nighttime attack occurred last year in another Caucasus city, Nazran. Most raiders in Nalchik apparently were local.
"All the militants were already in Nalchik as 'peaceful citizens,"' Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency, apparently denying Chechen rebel claims of involvement.