Seven women shot dead in Russian sauna

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Seven women were shot dead in a sauna in Dagestan and, in separate attacks, eight policemen and two separatists were also killed in Russia’s northern Caucasus region late on Thursday, police and media said on Friday.

Growing lawlessness and Islamist violence in Dagestan, Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia are undermining the Kremlin’s control of its southern flank.

The attacks are the latest in a sharp upswing in violence against civilians across the region, where a local minister was shot dead in his office earlier this week.

The seven women were shot by rebels at around the same time as separatists attacked and killed four policemen manning a nearby checkpoint in Buinaksk, a town 41 km (25 miles) from local capital Makhachkala.

“At least four died when they attacked the traffic police. Around the same time they entered the sauna and shot seven women,” a spokesman for local police said on Friday. He gave no further details.

Separately, four policemen and two separatists died in a shootout in Chechnya, Russian news agencies reported on Friday.

The Chechen deaths occurred in an abandoned house near the capital Grozny, RIA news agency said.

Five other security force officers were also injured in a separate clash in the republic on Thursday, Interfax reported.

On Wednesday, Ingushetia’s construction minister was shot at close range in his heavily guarded office.

In Chechnya three human rights activists have been shot and killed in the past month, two earlier this week and one in July.

Reporting by Conor Sweeney and Tatiana Ustinova; Editing by Louise Ireland