x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Car bomb wounds Russian leader

A car bomb exploded as the president of the troubled Russian region of Ingushetia passed in his convoy this morning, critically wounding him.

NAZRAN, RUSSIA // A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy carrying the president of the troubled Russian province of Ingushetia today, wounding him and killing two bodyguards. No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on Yunus Bek Yevkurov, a sharp escalation of the violence that has targeted police and government officials with growing frequency in the southern provinces surrounding Chechnya. The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev called for a "direct and harsh" response to the attacks, which he linked to federal and local efforts to bring calm to the North Caucasus, which was destabilised by two separatist wars in Chechnya. "The bandits dislike these actions," he said. Russia's chief prosecutor said the attack on Mr Yevkurov was linked to his actions against the militants, but also against crime and corruption in the region. Hospital officials said Mr Yevkurov - who was appointed president in October after the Kremlin dismissed the region's long-time leader Murat Zyazikov - was flown to Moscow for further treatment. The bomb was set off as Mr Yevkurov travelled outside the Ingush provincial centre, Nazran. A car manoeuvred around a police escort vehicle, drove directly into the convoy and then exploded, said Svetlana Gorbakova, a spokeswoman for the Ingush Investigative Committee, and other officials. Presidential spokesman Kaloi Akhilgov said Mr Yevkurov suffered a serious concussion and broken ribs, but that his life was not in danger. Hospital and emergency officials, however, said the president was in critical condition, with burns, head injuries and damage to internal organs. Mr Yevkurov's armoured car was left abandoned in the grass by the roadside, its windows shattered, missing wheels and most of the front end of the vehicle destroyed. Two roadside houses had their roofs damaged and their windows shattered. Mr Yevkurov, who used to work for the GRU military intelligence service, was the third top official to be wounded or killed in Ingushetia in the past three weeks and the fourth in the North Caucasus this month. Ingushetia is home to hundreds of refugees from the wars in Chechnya, to the east, and is one of Russia's poorest provinces. Like other North Caucasus regions, it has seen an alarming spike in violence in recent years. Much of the violence is linked to the two separatist wars that ravaged Chechnya over the past 15 years, but persistent poverty, corruption, feuding ethnic groups and the rise of religious tensions are also blamed. The Kremlin had put Mr Yevkurov in charge of Ingushetia after removing Zyazikov, a former KGB agent who was widely reviled in Ingushetia for his repressive policies. Law enforcement forces have conducted sweeps of the forested regions along Ingushetia's border with Chechnya in recent months, trying to keep militants from moving into Ingushetia. On June 10, gunmen killed the region's deputy chief Supreme Court justice opposite a kindergarten in Nazran as she dropped her children off. Three days later, the region's former deputy prime minister was shot as he stood outside his home in Nazran. On June 5, the top law enforcement officer of another North Caucasus province, Dagestan, was killed by a sniper as he stood outside a restaurant where a wedding was taking place. That killing prompted Mr Medvedev to go to Dagestan to showcase the Kremlin's campaign to bring calm to the North Caucasus. Meeting top security officials in Moscow on Monday, Mr Medvedev said that Mr Yevkurov "has done a lot to bring order to the region." "Of course everything that has happened is a consequence of the strengthening of the position of the administration and their work in all forms," he said. Mr Medvedev told the president of Chechnya that the fight against militant uprisings "should be continued so those who commit these acts understand that the reaction will be direct and harsh." Akhilgov, Yevkurov's spokesman, noted that Monday was the fifth anniversary of night-time attacks on police and government in Ingushetia that killed nearly six dozen people - most of them police. *AP