One of four gunmen who kidnaped a busload of people was not killed in a shootout as previously reported and is apparently still at large in southern Russia, officials said Saturday.
Russian commandos captured three of the four kidnapers and freed their hostages unharmed Friday. Interior Ministry officials had said the fourth kidnaper was killed trying to escape.
But on Saturday, ministry spokesman Yuri Reshetnikov said the fourth man was not killed. He escaped into the woods after the kidnapers' helicopter landed in Chechnya, a mountainous region of southern Russia that has declared its independence, he said.
He said the man was being sought by Chechen militia and "volunteers." All four kidnapers were identified as Chechens.
The Russian commandos' decision not to pursue the man in Chechnya underscores the region's reputation for ferocity and as a breeding ground for ruthless criminal gangs. Most men in Chechnya carry weapons, and strangers--especially Russians--are unwelcome.
"It is hard to find out anything from Chechnya," Reshetnikov acknowledged.
The three other kidnapers, the ransom and the four hostages have all been returned to the southern Russian city of Mineralniye Vody, he said.
The hostage drama began Thursday when the gunmen hijacked a passenger bus. They traded all but four hostages for a military helicopter and crew, several million dollars in cash, drugs and guns. They flew to Chechnya on Friday, with several army helicopters loaded with Russian commandos in pursuit.
Meanwhile, the interior minister of Chechnya and his police chief were killed in a car blast in which the territory's president narrowly escaped assassination, the Interfax news agency said Saturday.
It quoted a senior official as saying a car, packed with explosives, blew up when a motorcade passed by late Friday carrying Chechen President Dzhokar Dudayev and some of his top ministers.
The blast hurled Dudayev's car 30 feet off course, but the president was not hurt. Interior Minister Magomed Eldiyev, Police Chief Said Ali Batayev and their driver were killed.