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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

4 Russian Police Killed Near Chechen Border

Gunmen shot dead four policemen in Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia on Tuesday before fleeing across the border into Chechnya, Russian media quoted Ingush officials as saying.

Ingush officials were not available to comment on the reports, which said an Ingush patrol car had come under fire after being ambushed by up to 10 gunmen.

In the Chechen capital, Grozny, officials said investigators had headed for the scene of the ambush.

Chechnya and areas surrounding it have been prey to frequent violence and banditry since separatist guerrillas forced Russian troops to withdraw from the region in 1996.

Chechen police Monday night arrested a group of 12 militants suspected of carrying out a wave of kidnappings and seized numerous weapons and ammunition, Itar-Tass reported.

Sharpudi Tasuyev, a deputy chief of Chechnya's anti-abduction squad, said the arrested men were suspected of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy in Grozny. The boy is still missing.

Hundreds of people have been abducted for ransom in Chechnya in recent years.

Tasuyev said 117 hostages are still being held. Of these, 70 were kidnapped in 1998 and 47 in 1997.

In total, 189 people were kidnapped during 1998. Eight of the

hostages, including four Westerners who were beheaded in December, were killed.

Tasuyev said 280 people had been questioned in the latest crackdown on hostage-takers and 37 people were currently in detention.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's efforts to combat crime have been thwarted by rebellious warlords, who have resisted any government control.

Maskhadov's supporters have appealed to the nation's top Islamic court to punish Shamil Basayev, one of the most powerful warlords, for "discrediting" the president.

Basayev had earlier appealed to the court to prosecute Maskhadov for breaking Chechen law by adopting pro-Russian policies, but the judges ruled in the president's favor.

Chechnya's religious leader, Mufti Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, appeared on national television Monday night to back Maskhadov and assail his foes, whom he accused of "ignoring the people's needs" and fomenting tension in the republic.

Chechnya has run its own affairs since defeated Russian troops withdrew two years ago, but no country has recognized its independence claim and Moscow considers the southern republic a part of Russia.