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9 Sep, 2007 07:58

Ingushetia violence: aimed against returning Russians?

Two militants have been killed in a shootout in the Russian southern Republic of Ingushetia. The men are said to have been part of a bandit group that carried out several attacks in the republic, including recent assaults on police outposts.

The current wave of violence that has been sweeping across the republic bordering Chechnya has forced the Russian authorities to send an additional 1,800 troops recently to prevent the situation from worsening.

During the summer and the first weeks of autumn this year, numerous attacks on local authorities and police have raised fears that the security situation in Ingushetia is spinning out of control.

In the latest development, two militants were killed after attacking a police outpost in the republic, killing one and wounding two officers.

“On Saturday night a group of armed men attacked a police structure. Because of police actions, the criminals were cornered and as a result of a shootout that went on until dawn, two attackers were killed,” Isa Taskoyev, First Deputy Interior Minister of Ingushetia, said.  

After discovering the identities of the two perpetrators, the authorities said they had been on the federal wanted list for several previous attacks.

This was the latest act of violence among many attacks in the republic over the last four months.

Not only police and the military have been targeted lately, but attacks on civilians are also common.   

On August 31, gunmen attacked the house of a Russian teacher, Vera Draganchuk. Her husband and two sons were killed. The woman and another relative escaped through a window. Four suspects have been detained.  

Prosecutors believe the group responsible for killing Vera Draganchuk's family may also have been involved in the murder of Ludmila Terekhina and two of her children in July. The circumstances were strikingly similar: Terekhina was also a Russian teacher, and she and her family were found dead in their house.

Furthermore, during the funeral for the family there was an explosion at the cemetery injuring ten people.  

Investigators say the recent wave of attacks might have been caused by a major counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya that squeezed the militants out to the neighbouring republics. But other versions could also prove true.

“The killings might be aimed at disrupting the federal programme which allows Russian nationals to return to Ingushetia and at destabilising the situation in the republic,” Yury Turygin, a prosecutor, notes.

The programme in question aims at returning ethnic Russians to their homes in the Caucasus after they fled the region following two Chechen campaigns in the 1990s.

Last month, Russia sent the additional 1,800 personnel to Ingushetia to try to quell the growing violence there.  

The major counter-terrorist operation will not only aim to neutralize criminal groups but also prevent them from fleeing to the neighboring republics of Chechnya and North Ossetia, where they might try to carry out further acts of violence.