Militants target police, imam in Russian Caucasus

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Militants clashed with police and bombed an imam in attacks in Russia's troubled Caucasus Tuesday that left a policeman dead and the religious leader seriously wounded, investigators said.

A shootout erupted when police discovered a group of rebels in a wooded area near the village of Nokhch-Keloi in southern Chechnya, regional Investigative Committee spokeswoman Maryam Nalayeva said.

A policeman was killed and another wounded but there was no information about casualties to the rebels, she said.

Two militants were killed in another forest gunfight near the Chechen capital of Grozny early Tuesday. One was Islam Akayev, "an active member of the militant underground," a Chechen interior ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency.

In the neighbouring Ingushetia region, a car bomb Tuesday seriously wounded an imam from a mosque in the regional capital of Nazran, the regional Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The imam, Khamzat Chumakov, was hospitalised in a critical condition after a bomb exploded as he drove his car.

Religious leaders have frequently become targets in Northern Caucasus. In November 2009 an imam was shot dead in a Dagestan mountain village.

Russia is fighting a radical Islamist-fuelled insurgency in the North Caucasus regions of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia that has claimed scores of lives annually.

© 2010 AFP

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