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Russia says 15 rebels killed in Muslim Dagestan

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security forces said they killed 15 suspected rebels in clashes in the restive southern region of Dagestan on Wednesday, state-run news agencies reported.

Armed clashes between rebels and security services killed five in the regional capital Makhachkala, and 10 in the nearby port of Kaspiysk, the RIA and ITAR-TASS news agencies reported, citing the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The FSB said the dead rebels included one woman.

“A group of rebels were surrounded. When asked to surrender they opened fire,” an official in the FSB’s anti-terror committee of told ITAR-TASS. An FSB spokesman contacted by Reuters declined immediate comment.

An insurgency is raging across the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, where poverty and the ideology of global jihad has helped foster an armed campaign to carve out an independent state governed by Islamic law.

A decade after separatists were driven from power in the second of two wars in Chechnya, adjacent to Dagestan, the North Caucasus is plagued by near-daily clashes between law-enforcement agencies and Islamist rebels.

Dagestan has overtaken neighboring Chechnya and nearby Ingushetia as the epicenter of violence. Analysts say the region’s proximity to Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, poses a major headache for the Kremlin.

Writing by Conor Humphries and Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Ralph Boulton