Muscovites gunned down in Russia's North Caucasus

MOSCOW Sat Feb 19, 2011 9:55am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Masked gunmen shot dead three vacationers from the Moscow area on a road in Kabardino-Balkaria in the violence-plagued North Caucasus region, Russian news agencies reported on Saturday.

Separately, attackers blew up a cable-car support pole near Mount Elbrus in the same province late on Friday, bringing down dozens of cabins, news agencies reported. Nobody was hurt.

The attacks underscored the persistent violence in the North Caucasus, home to a spreading Islamist insurgency, and clouded the Kremlin's plans to draw investment and tourists by developing ski resorts in the region southeast of Sochi, where Russia is to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Assailants in a black car forced a minibus carrying five vacationers from the Moscow area to a halt and demanded to see their documents, Itar-Tass reported.

When the passengers asked to see identification, the assailants opened fire, killing two men and a woman and wounding the other two passengers, it said.

The Kremlin is struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency rooted in two post-Soviet wars against separatists in Chechnya.

The insurgents, who want an Islamic state in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 36 people at Moscow's busiest airport last month.

The insurgency has spread from Chechnya in the past decade to other provinces in the North Caucacus, primarily Dagestan and Ingushetia but also Kabardino-Balkaria, whose wooded peaks attract skiers, mountaineers and other vacationers from Russia's heartland.

Most militant attacks in the North Caucasus target police and security forces.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for either of the attacks. The killings of Muscovites could add to tension between Muslims from the Caucasus and Russia's Orthodox Christian majority.

(Editing by Steve Gutterman and Maria Golovnina)

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