MOSCOW Two of the most wanted Islamist rebels in Chechnya were among 14 people killed in a shootout between Russian forces and militants, Interfax news agency said on Thursday.
Brothers Khuseyn and Muslim Gakayev have been accused of organizing several high-profile attacks, most recently a suicide bomb attack on an interior ministry vehicle that killed four people last August.
They were also blamed for an attack on the Chechen parliament in 2010 when at least six people died, and an assassination attempt at the residence of Moscow-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
"During a special operation in the mountains of Chechnya, 12 militants were killed," Interfax quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry spokesman as saying.
Interfax quoted an unnamed local law enforcement officer as saying two police officers had also been killed.
The operation started on Wednesday and continued into Thursday, Kadyrov was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Insurgents seeking a separate Islamist state still stage daily attacks across the broader North Caucasus Mountain region more than a decade after Russia reestablished federal control over Chechnya after two separatist wars.
On his website, Kadyrov said the Gakayev brothers targeted state and other institutions. "On their consciences, they have the deaths of tens of innocent police officers, soldiers, teachers, entrepreneurs and religious officials," he said.
Kadyrov said the two were more dangerous than Doku Umarov, Russia's most wanted man who leads the main Islamist insurgency group known as the Caucasus Emirate. Khuseyn Gakayev split from Umarov's insurgency in 2010, but returned to his fold last year.
The special operation was going on in the Vedeno district, one of the regions hardest hit by the wars that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.
(Reporting By Thomas Grove; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and David Stamp)