MOSCOW (AP) — A group of men attacked a small bus carrying foreign and Russian journalists and activists from a non-governmental organization Wednesday near the border of Chechnya, beating the occupants and setting the vehicle on fire.
The attack took place when assailants in three cars blocked the vehicle, Igor Kalyapin, chairman of the Committee For Prevention of Torture and a member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, said on the council's website.
Timur Rakhmatulin, the NGO's regional leader, told The Associated Press that two of the journalists and the bus driver were hospitalized, but their conditions weren't immediately known.
Several hours later, a lawyer for the NGO, Dmitry Utukin, said on Twitter that a group of camouflaged armed men attempted to break into the group's office in the Ingush town of Karabulak.
The journalists on the trip included a reporter for Swedish state radio and one from Norway's Ny Tid newspaper, Rakhmatulin said. There were also reporters from major Russian broadsheet Kommersant, as well as Russia's New Times and Mediazona, he said.
Kommersant quoted the Mediazona journalist, Yegor Skovoroda, as saying the attack took place near the settlement of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia, just west of the border with Chechnya.
"They yelled 'You're supporting terrorists, the killers of our fathers.' We laid on the floor but they began to scream for us to get out," he was quoted as saying.
The meaning of the attackers' words was not immediately clear. Chechnya, and Russia's North Caucasus is heavily Muslim, but divided between those who follow Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and adherents of extremist Islamists who lean toward groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Depending on their ideology, some in the region disdain Russia for the airstrikes it launched on Syrian fighters in September while others take umbrage at disapproval of Kadyrov, who is criticized abroad for autocratic rule backed by severe police tactics.
This story has been corrected to show the correct spelling of the Russian media organization is Mediazona, not Mediazon.