x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Russian troops killed in Caucasus: reports

The number of troops killed in the operation varies between two and 50, depending on the source.

NAZRAN, RUSSIA // At least two Russian soldiers are killed during clashes with militia fighters in the Caucasus region of Ingushetia, state news agencies say, but other reports put the toll as high as 50. State controlled Russian news agencies reported that two soldiers had died, however an opposition website in southern Russia said more than 50 soldiers were killed by militias. A regional law enforcement source said 40 were killed in the attack, making it likely to be the most deadly in a recent series of attacks on troops in Ingushetia, a small territory bordering Chechnya.

"The soldiers didn't even manage to resist, because several rocket-propelled grenades hit their trucks," the source said, adding that three armoured personnel carriers and two lorries were hit by automatic rifle fire and grenades. All but one soldier travelling in the convoy were killed, the source said. News agencies quoted a spokesman for the region's Interior Ministry as saying two soldiers had been killed and five wounded. The agencies reported that one armoured personnel carrier and two lorries had been damaged in the shooting.

RIA Novosti quoted the regional prosecutor, Yuri Turygin, as saying the attack was carried out by as many as 20 fighters from Chechnya and Ingushetia. A spokesman for the Ingushetian Interior Ministry said earlier that a convoy came under fire near the village of Muzhichi, about 25km east of the regional capital Nazran, but was unable to confirm casualties. Troops were checking vehicles at the border with Chechnya. A Muzhichi resident, reached by telephone, said troops had barricaded the village and were checking passports while two helicopters circled overhead.

The opposition website, which moved from ingushetiya.ru to ingushetia.org several weeks after its former owner, Magomed Yevloyev, was shot in the head while in police custody, said the toll was higher and troops were killed in two separate attacks. Around 50 soldiers were killed in the first attack, while one survived with serious head wounds, the website said. Two more were killed when another convoy, sent to reinforce the first, came under attack, it said.

The website announced the cancellation of a demonstration planned for tomorrow to protest what it calls a less than objective investigation of Mr Yevloyev's death. Local authorities had declined permission for the protest and the regional prosecutor said it could attract mischief. Ingushetia, a poor, mainly Muslim republic, has suffered from an overspill of violence from neighbouring Chechnya in two separatist wars there. Moscow is struggling to contain an insurgency in the region by Islamist militants who regularly kill officials in ambushes and bomb attacks.

In a separate incident in another Ingush village, Russian news agencies reported that a car had exploded outside a school in a possible suicide bomb. * Reuters/AFP