MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security forces killed eight suspected militants in the North Caucasus province of Dagestan after storming a house where they were hiding with women and children, Russian anti-terrorism officials and law enforcement sources said on Friday.
More than a decade after federal forces toppled a separatist government in a war in Chechnya, Russia is still struggling to contain an Islamic insurgency across its mainly Muslim Caucasus mountains region.
The ranks of militants fighting to carve an Islamic state out of Russia’s southern fringe are swelled by anger over joblessness and allegations of police brutality and pervasive corruption.
The special forces surrounded the house in Alburikent, on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Makhachkala, in an overnight raid, Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) said.
All-night negotiations failed, the committee said, and after the rebels opened fire, the special forces let the children out and stormed the house.
“The rebels responded to an invitation to surrender with intensive shooting,” NAK said in a statement.
One of the victims was a woman who, pretending to turn herself in, approached the special forces and detonated an explosive belt strapped to her body, the committee said. She was killed, but no officers were hurt, it added.
Two law enforcement sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said eight bodies had been found so far in the house.
On Thursday, federal security forces killed two rebels in another Caucasus Mountain province, Kabardino-Balkaria, NAK said.
Nearly daily shootouts and suicide bombings have taken place in Dagestan, and insurgents have also launched deadly attacks on the Russian heartland.
Doku Umarov, the leader of the Islamist insurgency, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport that killed 37 people in January 2011 and twin bombings that killed 40 people in the Moscow metro in 2010.
Fears that violence may be spreading beyond North Caucasus arose last week when a car bomb and shooting rocked the largely peaceful province of Tatarstan, long seen as a model of religious tolerance, east of Moscow in central Russia.
Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo