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Ingushetia president wounded, aide killed in suicide attack

A suicide car bomber struck the presidential motorcade in the restive Russian republic of Ingushetia on Monday morning, killing at least one aide and sending the president to the hospital amid conflicting reports of his condition.

The attempt to assassinate Yunus Bek Yevkurov, a career military and intelligence officer charged with taming the violence in the largely Muslim republic, underscored the instability and insurrections in Russia’s southern borderlands. Witnesses said the bomber maneuvered his car around the president’s police escort and rammed the convoy before setting off his blast. Yevkurov’s staff said the president was unconscious and in “serious but stable” condition Monday afternoon. The president’s younger brother also was wounded.

Since coming to office last October, Yevkurov, 45, had tried to tamp down anger in the region, said Alexander Cherkasov, who has worked extensively in Ingushetia for the human rights group Memorial. The president extended amnesty to militants, met with human rights groups and insisted upon the involvement of local police in military operations.

“He tried to limit violence against the civilian population and to mend the split between society and authorities, to show that the authorities in Ingushetia are not against the society,” Cherkasov said. “In this sense, he was much more dangerous for the underground fighters than his predecessor.”

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the blast “a terrorist attack.”

“The president has done much recently to bring order and ensure peace in the republic,” Medvedev said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency. “Bandits do not like these efforts.”

Russian security services said they would send fresh reinforcements to the Caucasus.

“Today’s incident was an attempt to destabilize the situation,” Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov said during his meeting with Medvedev. “The militants threatened Yevkurov many times. This is their response.”

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Moscow has appeared eager to downplay violence in the notoriously restive republics along its southern flank, which lie close to Sochi, host city to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Two months ago, the government declared an official end to counter-terrorism operations in Chechnya, where Russia bled through two ruthless wars in the last two decades.

But the steady drip of violence in Ingushetia, where about half a million people live mired in poverty, corruption and extremism, continues to challenge Moscow’s control of the region. Monday’s assassination attempt was the latest in an escalating run of attacks on government officials in Ingushetia, which has edged out Chechnya as the epicenter of separatist Muslim militias in the Russian Caucasus.

Analysts say a Kremlin-backed crackdown in Chechnya has fueled an overflow of fighters into neighboring republics, especially Ingushetia. Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, a onetime rebel fighter who is backed by the Kremlin, mocked Yevkurov’s killers.

“They have shown their true colors,” he told reporters in Chechnya. “They want to start chaos in Ingushetia, to unleash an endless armed conflict and to seed fear and uncertainty in the souls of civilians.”

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A judge and a former prime minister were gunned down in separate attacks this month. And in an attack Monday, a senior Ingushetia investigator lost his leg in a bombing.

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megan.stack@latimes.com


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