Top official shot dead in Russia’s south

Police in Russia’s southern republic of Ingushetia are searching for the killers of its Construction Minister, Ruslan Amerkhanov – another victim of the violence ripping through the region.

Amerkhanov was shot dead in his office in the town of Magas. According to the prosecutor’s office, two assassins wearing masks first fired a shot at the minister’s aide and then several shots at the minister himself.

“At 10.15am, unidentified men broke into the office of the Construction Minister Ruslan Amerkhanov, opening gunfire. The Minister was shot dead. An investigation is underway,” said Aleksey Vorobyov, Ingush Security Council Secretary.

Ruslan Amerkhanov died instantly and his aide was taken to hospital. The latter is said to have escaped with minor injuries.

Authorities say the gunmen escaped in a car with North Ossetian license plates. But the search operation may be hampered by the fact that cars from the neighboring republic are not all that uncommon on Ingushetia’s roads.

According to investigators, there could be several reasons behind the assault, but it’s most likely that Amerkhanov’s position made him a target. The minister had recently conducted a series of inspections in the republic’s construction sector.

Amerkhanov’s killing comes as a wave of violence has bee sweeping through the region with shootings and explosions occurring almost daily, and a string of assassination attempts on high-ranking officials.

On June 10, 2009, the deputy chairman of Ingushetia’s Supreme Court, Aza Gazgireyeva, was assassinated.

On June 22, the president of the republic’s motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber. President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was seriously injured in a blast and two of his body guards lost their lives.

“The situation in the region became more intense after the counter-terror regime was ended. They want to prove that neither Kadyrov, nor Yevkurov can control the situation. It’s not a secret that separatists are financed from abroad, from the Arab states. The money is to be worked off. To get more funds they have to do something to get on Russia’s nerves. Traditionally, the North Caucasus region is used to influence the situation in Russia,” political analyst Sergey Mikheev says.

Security has been increased in Ingushetia, and investigators from Moscow are even being sent to help.

The Ingush president, who has just returned to his duties after leaving a hospital in Moscow, says he is going to step up efforts to wipe out militants operating in the troubled republic.