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1 Sep, 2007 02:52

Ingushetia blast kills four policemen

Four policemen have been killed by a car bomb in the city of Nazran, the capital of Russia's southern Republic of Ingushetia. Another officer was injured in the explosion, which set nearby vehicles on fire.

A spokesman at the regional prosecutor's office said a warning was received that a car bomb had been left outside a cultural centre. The vehicle is said to have exploded as policemen were searching the area trying to find the car.

Earlier, Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry dismissed the blast as the result of a traffic accident, but is now calling it a 'terrorist act'.

The blast took place at 7:40 p.m. local time. The scene was later sealed off for an hour and a half by FSB forces.

Ingushetia's Prosecutor says there's nothing new in this kind of attack.

“The criminals hoped police would arrive at the scene and start examining the suspect car, which is exactly what happened.  Similar things have happened in the past, leading to numerous victims,” said Yury Turygin, Prosecutor of the Republic of Ingushetia.

A recent spate of attacks against officials and police in the region have been blamed on Islamist rebels.

The car blast came less than a day after three members of a Russian family were shot dead in the town of Karabulak in Ingushetia. Russian authorities say they have sent the best detectives available to find the gunmen. 

A criminal investigation has been launched into the incident.

Investigators are checking several possible scenarios. “There are a number of suspects that have committed similar crimes against ethnic Dagestanis. The killings could be aimed at disrupting the programme which allows Russian nationals to return, and at destabilising the situation in the Republic,” Yury Turygin stated.

On Friday, gunmen forced their way into the home of a local teacher, Vera Dragonchuk, in the town of Karabulak. Her husband, Anatoly, and 24-year-old son, Mikhail, died immediately. The other son, 20-year-old, Denis, a university student, died on the way to hospital. The teacher, Vera Dragonchuk, escaped by jumping out of the window.

“I did not see any of it. I got out of there right away. My brother was sleeping and he did not hear anything. He got out only later when he heard cries. Everything happened so quickly, it lasted no longer than three minutes. It was unimaginably quick, and when I got out, there was already nobody in the yard,” Vera Dragonchuk explained.

Boris Tonkogubov, a relative of the victims, who was in a nearby house at the time of the attack, believes a silencer must have been used as he did not hear any shots.

“By the time I ran out it was too late. There were no cars in the street or any men running away. They must have used a silencer because I didn’t hear any shots. I was only woken up when I heard my sister screaming and crying,” he said.

Prosecutors are saying the attack may have been in revenge for the death of a suspected militant field commander shot dead on Thursday during a police operation.

Another version is that the murders were committed by the gang that killed another school teacher, Lyudmila Teryokhina, and her son and daughter in their home in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in July. At their funeral two days later, a bomb went off at the cemetery leaving 11 people injured.

In recent years September 1 has become a tense time for Russia's police and security forces.

It marks the anniversary of the start of the Beslan siege, when Chechen terrorists seized a school in North Ossetia, taking more than 1,200 people hostage. 

The siege ended two days later in a bloody shootout between terrorists and Russian security forces.  According to government figures, 344 people were killed, 186 of them children.

Ingushetia's physical closeness to Chechnya has made it a target for militant attacks against police and civilians.

Security forces across Russia are on high alert following Friday's bombing in Nazran.

Recent attacks once again highlight the instability of Russia's North Caucasus.