Militants Say They Shot Mayor

Islamist militants in the volatile North Caucasus on Thursday claimed responsibility for the assassination of the mayor of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, according to the Kavkaz Center rebel web site.

Vladikavkaz Mayor Vitaly Karayev was struck in the heart by a single bullet Wednesday morning in an apparent sniper attack near his home in the southern city, and he died later in the hospital.

In a statement posted Thursday on the Islamist rebel web site Kavkazcenter.com, a group called the Kataib al-Khoul, also known as the Ossetian Jamaat, said one of its senior leaders shot and killed Karayev as he stepped into his silver Mercedes at about 9 a.m. Wednesday. The statement said Karayev was killed because he ordered a crackdown in Vladikavkaz on women wearing traditional Muslim garb in the wake of the Nov. 6 attack by a female suicide bomber in the city that left 12 people dead.

The militants denied that Islamist rebels based in North Ossetia were linked to that bombing, saying they had never planned or executed attacks on civilians, with the exception of "informers and those who are openly hostile to the religion of Allah."

Kataib al-Khoul was first mentioned on the Kavkaz Center web site in March 2006. The site describes the group as an Ossetian unit of a broad network of Islamist militants battling Moscow for control over the North Caucasus.

Since then, the group has claimed responsibility for the slayings of several officials in North Ossetia, a predominantly Christian republic in the largely Muslim North Caucasus.

North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov had said Wednesday that he did not believe that Karayev's murder was connected to Islamist rebels.

Meanwhile, Federal Security Service chief Alexander Bortnikov said Thursday that international terrorist organizations were involved in the Nov. 6 suicide bombing in Vladikavkaz.

"We established the complicity of a criminal underground network linked to the international terrorist groups in this attack," Bortnikov said, RIA-Novosti reported.