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Ingush leader badly wounded in assassination bid

Nazran — A roadside bomb on Monday critically wounded the leader of Russia’s Ingushetia region and killed at least one other person, badly hitting Kremlin hopes of restoring stability to the Caucasus.

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a former paratroop commander appointed by the Kremlin last year to stabilise the insurgency-riven region, was hospitalised with head injuries after a massive explosion went off as his convoy travelled past.

Three cars in his convoy were caught in the huge blast and blood covered the road, an AFP correspondent said. The explosion was heard in the region’s main city Nazran, where it shattered windows.

"An attempt was carried out on the life of president Yevkurov. He is currently in a serious condition," a spokesman for the president told AFP, adding that the attack had taken place at around 8:30 am (0430 GMT).

The Russian prosecutors investigative committee said the blast had the explosive force of 70 kilogrammes (150 pounds) of TNT and went off in a parked foreign-made car "where a suicide bomber could have been sitting."

It said that a member of the security forces was killed in the blast just outside Nazran, while Yevkurov’s driver and younger brother Uvais were both wounded.

Yevkurov was hospitalised in serious condition and a team of doctors was flown out from Moscow, according to officials. A presidential spokesman said Yevkurov suffered wounds to the brain and body.

"An operation has been performed, but his condition is still serious," a surgeon at the hospital in Nazran told AFP.

Officials later said the operation had been a success, and RIA-Novosti news agency said Yevkurov was taken to a nearby airport to be transferred to Moscow for further treatment.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev condemned the attack as an "act of terror" during a meeting with security officials.

"The Ingush president did much recently both to bring order and on the other hand, to bring civil peace to the republic. The bandits did not like this activity," Medvedev said.

Alexei Malashenko, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, called the attack a "blow for the Kremlin," especially after Moscow trumpeted the success of a major operation against militants in the region last month.

"The clandestine militants seems to be stronger than was thought and their capacities are unpredictable," Malashenko said.

News agencies said Ingush Prime Minister Rashid Gaisanov would take over Yevkurov’s duties in the interim.

Yevkurov, who has won Russia’s highest military award, earned renown as a commander in the 1999 Kosovo war when he led paratroops on a 300-kilometre (180-mile) march to occupy its airport ahead of NATO forces.

Medvedev appointed Yevkurov as Ingush president in October after sacking his deeply unpopular predecessor Murat Zyazikov for failing to stem the endemic corruption, unemployment and violence.

A predominantly Muslim region that shares close cultural and linguistic ties with neighbouring Chechnya, Ingushetia has in recent years been fighting an Islamist insurgency that has cost the lives of scores of security personnel.

Moscow recently ended a 10-year "counter-terrorist" operation in Chechnya — which fought two separatist wars against Moscow after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union — saying stability had returned to the region.

Yet just this month, gunmen shot dead two prominent figures in Ingushetia, an ex-deputy prime minister and a deputy head of the region’s supreme court.

Violence has also continued in Chechnya and nearby Dagestan. This month the Dagestani interior minister was shot dead while attending a wedding, and last month a suicide bomber killed two people in the Chechen capital Grozny.

"The bandits are hungry for blood, they want to return Ingushetia to chaos and to create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty amongst the peaceful population," said Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, quoted by Interfax.

Vakha Chapanov/AFP/Expatica