Russia says three rebels killed in Dagestan raid

MAKHACHKALA, Dagestan Sun Jul 24, 2011 11:30am EDT

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MAKHACHKALA, Dagestan (Reuters) - Russian security forces killed three suspected militants in a gunfight in its restive North Caucasus province of Dagestan, authorities said on Sunday.

One of the victims was Mekhtibek Bashirov, the leader of an insurgent group in the Caspian Sea city of Derbent, a local security source told Reuters and Russian media cited the National Anti-terrorist Committee (NAK) as saying.

Predominantly Muslim Dagestan is plagued by violence linked to an Islamist insurgency that persists on Russia's southern rim a decade after federal forces drove separatists from power in the neighboring province of Chechnya.

Two women said to be trained as suicide bombers were in the alleged militant safe house seized by police and Federal Security Services (FSB) officers in the town of Dagestanskiye Ogni, south of the regional capital Makhachkala, state-run RIA cited NAK as saying.

One woman was killed in the operation while the other is in hospital with gunshot wounds after surrendering to police, according to NAK. The committee could not immediately be reached for comment but a local FSB spokesman confirmed the report.

"We know for sure that these women were trained as suicide bombers," the FSB spokesman said.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev told Interfax: "Today's operation foiled possible serious terrorist attacks ... Two female suicide bombers have been disarmed."

Violence occurs on a daily basis in the North Caucasus, where local leaders say insurgency is fueled by a mix of heavy-handed tactics by security forces, high joblessness, corruption and radical Islam.

North Caucasus militants have threatened to bring violence to Russia's heartland in the year before presidential elections in March 2012.

(Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by David Cowell)

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