(Adds militant leader among the dead)
MOSCOW, May 24 - Seven militants in the North Caucasus province of Ingushetia were killed in a three-hour gun battle with Russian security forces after which their hide-out was consumed by fire, the Russian authorities said on Saturday.
Among the dead was the leader of a local militant group accused of being behind the killing of a regional security chief last year and the deaths of several other Russian security and police officers.
Russia is battling insurgents in its largely Muslim North Caucasus region where Islamist groups want to carve out an Islamic state.
Last August, Ahmed Kotiyev, head of the regional Security Council, an advisory body on security and defense, and his driver were shot dead in Ingushetia.
Russia’s Anti-Terrorism Committee said in a statement that one of the militants killed, Artur Gatagadzhev, was responsible for the attack.
The Committee said the militants, who had been hiding on Saturday in a house in the village of Sogopshi, had opened fire on the Russian troops who had surrounded them.
The cause of the ensuing blaze may have been an improvised explosive device, it said in a statement.
On Friday, Russia said four militants and a member of Russia’s security service were killed during clashes in Karbadino-Balkaria, also in the North Caucasus.
In recent years militants from the North Caucasus have carried out attacks in other parts of Russia, including a suicide bombing in 2011 in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in which scores of people were killed.
Reporting by Jason Bush and Lidia Kelly, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Timothy Heritage