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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Calls for Tougher Action in the Caucasus

ReutersServicemen patrolling Grozny on Monday. Special forces also are hunting down alleged militants in other southern republics.
President Vladimir Putin ordered the Interior Ministry on Monday to toughen efforts to eliminate militants in the restive North Caucasus region.

His order followed special operations over the past several weeks to kill alleged Islamic extremists and their accomplices in several southern cities.

"I think you should tie up all the loose ends that could appear in the process of investigating this affair," Putin told Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, referring to a weekend operation to kill three alleged militants holed up in an apartment in the city of Nalchik.

"You should work like this in the future, and treat them more severely," Putin said.

Police killed an alleged militant trying to flee capture in the city of Karachayevsk early Monday after discovering a group of armed men in an apartment the previous day, said Alexei Polyansky, spokesman for the Interior Ministry's southern regional branch. Police then sealed off the building, where two or three more militants were believed to be holed up, he said, without revealing further details of the operation.

The three alleged militants in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, were killed Sunday morning when security forces stormed the apartment where they had barricaded themselves. Two were ethnic Russians and the third an ethnic Karachai from the predominantly Muslim region of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Polyansky said.

Nurgaliyev told Putin that investigators had discovered last week that the heads of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia radical Islamic group had instructions to conduct terrorist acts in Russia. As a result of interrogations, police found a bomb-making laboratory and maps of two southern Russian regions, he said.

He said similar special operations to uproot militants were being conducted in the southern republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Authorities had previously said that the militants killed in Nalchik were Islamic extremists, but it was unclear whether the two Russians were adherents of Islam or simply mercenaries, Polyansky said.

Investigators found a Makarov pistol in the ruins of the apartment. The gun bore the serial number of a weapon that went missing during a June 2004 militant raid on police and security forces in Ingushetia, Polyansky said, tying the dead militants to a longer series of attacks that have rocked southern Russia.

On Sunday, Arkady Edelev, a deputy interior minister, said the confrontation with the three militants came during a three-day sweep in Nalchik to root out what he called "terrorist-sabotage groups." He said the groups were preparing terrorist attacks.

Russia's southern regions have been plagued by violence — including the September school hostage-taking in the city of Beslan in which some 330 people were killed — some of it spilling over from Chechnya.

Alexander Nagorny, deputy editor of the nationalist newspaper Zavtra and a Kremlin critic, said Monday that Putin could "choke" on the persistent violence in the Caucasus — much as the United States is struggling with the insurgency in Iraq.

"We see how partisan and terrorist activity is spreading to more and more regions. [The government] doesn't have the strength to deal with it, especially with the continuation of the existing approaches, the existing tactics and strategy," Nagorny said.

The spokesman for the Federal Security Service, Sergei Ignatchenko, said Monday that an al-Qaida liaison in southern Russia had died in a confrontation with security and police forces.

Abu Dzeit, a Kuwaiti national, blew himself up during a special operation on Wednesday in Ingushetia, which neighbors Chechnya, Ignatchenko said. Security forces killed two of his accomplices in a house and then found Abu Dzeit in a bunker built underground.

Ignatchenko said Abu Dzeit was involved in funding and planning several attacks, including the June 2004 raid in Ingushetia and the Beslan hostage-taking.

Russian officials frequently play up claims of a large foreign mercenary presence among Chechen rebels and other militants in the south to shore up their argument that they are closely linked to international terrorists, justifying the Kremlin's harsh response. The increasing use of suicide bombers and merciless hostage-takings are widely thought to have been inspired by foreign emissaries linked to al-Qaida.