9 Chechen cops killed in Russia

MOSCOW: Nine Chechen police were killed when militants fired on their car from a forest in the neighbouring Russian region of Ingushetia, one of the deadliest recent attacks in the volatile Caucasus.

Their vehicle came under grenade and gun fire from unknown individuals hidden in a forest as it travelled on a road in Ingushetia at around 0530 GMT and burst into flames, Russian news agencies said, quoting security officials.

"As a result of the attack, nine police from Chechnya were killed and nine more were badly wounded," the head of Ingushetia's security council Alexei Vorobyev told the Interfax news agency.

The Chechen police were in Ingushetia to conduct a joint special operation against militants with their Ingush colleagues, the reports said.

Concerns have grown in the last weeks about the stability of Ingushetia, one of Russia's most violent regions, after its leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was gravely wounded in a car bombing on June 22.

The fact that Chechen police were the victims is especially significant as Chechnya's controversial leader Ramzan Kadyrov has in recent weeks positioned himself as the strongman of the entire Caucasus region.

The attack is the deadliest single militant strike in the Caucasus since April when Russia abolished a decade-long anti-terror operation in Chechnya which was the scene of two separatist wars since the collapse of communism.

Russia justified that move by saying stability had returned to Chechnya under Kadyrov. But analysts warned at the time that other regions of the Caucasus were still mired in unrest.

Islamist militants are battling pro-Kremlin authorities and Russian security forces in a low-level insurgency in the overwhelmingly Muslim regions of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

Officials said Friday Yevkurov has regained consciousness after almost two weeks in a coma but the Kremlin has appointed the local prime minister Rashid Gaisanov to act as Ingush leader until he recovers.