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Islamist Militants Claim Killing of Caucasus Mayor

An Islamist militant group in the Caucasus has claimed responsibility for killing a mayor in Russia's mainly Christian republic of North Ossetia.

The claim was posted Thursday on a Web site frequently used by separatists in Russia's restive southern republics. It said a local separatist faction known as Kataib-al-Khoul carried out the assassination of Vladikavkaz Mayor Vitaly Karayev. The posting said the mayor was killed because his policies were seen as insulting Islam and women.

A short while after the posting, Russia's Ria Novosti news agency quoted a North Ossetian law enforcement source as saying no such extremist or reactionary grouping [Jamaat] exists in North Ossetia.

The mayor was leaving his home Wednesday when gunmen opened fire on his car. He died at a local hospital.

Vladikavkaz has been beset by violence. Earlier this month, 12 people died in a suicide bombing outside one of the city's markets. Separately, the deputy mayor of Vladikavkaz was injured when a bomb exploded inside his car in October.

Nearby South Ossetia was the focus of a brief Russian-Georgian military conflict in August.

North Ossetia also borders the Russian republic of Ingushetia, the site of frequent attacks by Islamist separatists.

Heavily armed extremists in the North Ossetian town of Beslan seized an elementary school in 2004 and held hundreds of students and teachers hostage, demanding a Russian pullout from Chechnya. Russian security forces stormed the school in an ill-fated rescue attempt that killed 330 people, mostly children.