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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Suspected Rebels Killed in Ingushetia

Security forces and police killed three suspected Chechen rebels who were holed up in a house in Ingushetia, law enforcement officials said Sunday.

In the kind of operation that occurs frequently in the restive North Caucasus provinces near Chechnya, government forces surrounded the home where the suspected militants were staying and demanded they surrender. The militants opened fire in response and were killed in the ensuing gunbattle, according to Roman Shchekotin, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry's southern branch.

The fighting occurred late Saturday in Nesterovskaya, a village near the border with Chechnya, Shchekotin said. He said the suspected militants were believed to be members of a militant group led by Doku Umarov, who became the top Chechen rebel leader after the death of warlord Shamil Basayev in July.

Also on Sunday, a top government forensic medical expert said the authorities had yet to confirm that a man killed in a July 10 truck explosion in Ingushetia was actually warlord Shamil Basayev, Interfax reported.

The authorities claim that Basayev was killed in a special operation. Chechen rebels said that Basayev died when a truck laden with explosives blew up by accident.

The government's attempt to identify the remains has been hampered by the lack of material for a comparative DNA analysis, said Pavel Ivanov, chief forensics expert at the Russian Center for Forensic Examination, run by the Federal Health and Social Development Agency.

"We have no sample of Shamil Basayev's blood, and I don't know who might have one," Ivanov said. "[Basayev] probably did all he could to make sure that no one had [a sample]."

In such cases, forensic experts attempt to identify remains indirectly, using the DNA of known relatives. Ivanov said that the success of this process depended greatly on the degree of separation between the relative and the deceased.

"If they give us Shamil Basayev's great uncle once removed, that's one thing, but if they give us his brother, that's something else," Ivanov said. "But in this situation, we don't get to choose. We work with what we're given."

Ivanov said that the process of identifying the remains initially attributed to Basayev was complicated. "It was a powerful explosion, and the body was extremely fragmented and the remains were badly burned and charred."

Basayev participated in rebel offensives and claimed responsibility for attacks including the September 2004 hostage-taking raid on a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan that left 333 victims dead, most of them children.

(AP, MT)