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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Federal Forces Press Assault on Rebels in Ingushetia

VLADIKAVKAZ, North Ossetia -- Federal forces pounded a band of Chechen rebels in Ingushetia with airstrikes and artillery fire Monday, news reports said, and insurgent attacks in Chechnya proper left at least nine servicemen dead, according to a Chechen official.

The rebels under barrage in Ingushetia are believed to be the remainder of a group that shot down a military helicopter with a shoulder-fired missile on Sept. 26. That attack underlined the rebels' capacity to spread the war outside Chechnya and showed that they remained well-equipped after more than three years of fighting.

"The rebels are blocked and the circle is narrowing. As far as we know, about 60 to 70 rebels are encircled," said Vladimir Churkin, chief of staff of the region's 58th Army, Interfax reported.

One serviceman and four rebels were killed in that fighting over the past day, said an official in the Kremlin-backed Chechen administration.

Russian claims to have rebel bands at bay have frequently proved premature, with the fighters able to fade into the region's rugged terrain or blend in with the civilian population.

Russian officials, meanwhile, claimed that three rebels died in Grozny when their car was blown up by a homemade explosive. Two of the three were known to have been trained as explosives experts by Khattab, a warlord killed earlier this year, Itar-Tass reported.

Despite the violence, Russian troops will halt their blocking off of settlements until the completion of Russia's national census Oct. 16, Chechnya's Moscow-backed Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyas said Monday, Itar-Tass reported.

Such blockings, in which troops comb through towns looking for rebels, are one of the aspects of the war most hated by civilians, who allege that troops abuse local men of fighting age and often kidnap or kill them.