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31 May, 2009 16:42

Anti-terrorist drive in Chechnya in full swing

Police and special forces are scouring the forests of the Caucasus in a hunt for militants. The operation began two weeks ago following a bombing in the Chechen capital Grozny.

In the city of Nalchik, police killed a gang of suspected militants after a 12-hour operation. Earlier, officers had tracked down the group, which had taken refuge in an apartment. Police met with fierce resistance from the gang and were forced to make several assault attempts.

Unconfirmed reports suggest wanted terrorist Anzor Astemirov was among those killed.

He is accused of masterminding a large attack on the city three years ago, which killed 100 people.

Some 50 miles away from Nalchik, Chechen policemen are praying. They soon expect to face Islamic militants hiding in the forest. The officers are aware that some of them might not return from the raid.

Shortly after a recent clash with militants, police discovered the group’s camp, arms and belongings. Police say there were women among the insurgents.

One suspected gunman was killed in the battle, but he wasn't the first.

“We went to their very nest. To the place where no one has ever been able to get. After ten days of special operations, 21 demons were killed. Among them were Georgians, Azeris, Ingush, and Chechens. But bandits don’t have nationalities,” the President of Russia’s Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov said.

Blown out of proportion

A month after the 10-year-long counter-terrorist operation was lifted in Chechnya, a suicide bomb attack killed four people in the centre of Grozny.

This prompted a new joint anti-terrorist mission on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The interior ministry says that since then they've found nearly 30 well-equipped military camps belonging to the militants.

As well as the police, the two interior ministers are working out a joint plan of attack. They are confident of success.

“We will cut the ground from under them. The bandits will have no rest in Chechnya or in Ingushetia, while we are after them,” Chechnya’s Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said.

Officials say the militant’s leader, Doku Umarov, one of the most wanted terrorists in Russia – believed to be behind the Beslan school siege of 2004, – remains at large.

But the hunt continues. Police are confident they know his whereabouts and will catch him soon.