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Bomber in Russia's Chechnya strikes near leader

GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - A suicide bomber detonated explosives near a music hall where the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region was attending a concert, leaving him unharmed but injuring five servicemen.

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“Those bandits cannot destroy the peace in the Chechen republic,” Kremlin-backed Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov told reporters after leaving the concert hall in the provincial capital, Grozny, following the explosion. He did not say if he believed he had been a target.

The blast is the first suicide bomb in Grozny in almost a year. Russia is fighting an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya -- where separatist rebels have fought two devastating wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s -- and neighboring provinces in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

At least five servicemen were wounded when the bomber set off explosives after approaching one of their vehicles near the music hall, a local law enforcement official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He said the bomber was a young Grozny native.

Kadyrov, an ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist who has vowed repeatedly to wipe out Islamist insurgents, has said there have been attacks on his life in the past.

His predecessor and father, Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in 2004 by a bomb that ripped through a stadium grandstand.

Though Kadyrov has drawn widespread criticism from rights groups who say he runs Chechnya as a personal fiefdom, political analysts say any harm done to him could plunge the region into chaos -- which would be a major headache for the Kremlin who credit him for maintaining a shaky peace.

Youths angered by poverty and fired up by the ideology of global jihad stage near-daily attacks in the North Caucasus, and the Kremlin has named the region its single biggest domestic problem.

Many want to carve out a sharia state independent from Russia and label regional leaders in the North Caucasus as infidels, accusing them of abandoning true Islam and siding with the Kremlin, unofficial Islamist web sites say.

Last year the leader of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, narrowly survived a suicide bomb attack.

Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Philippa Fletcher