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Russian Soldiers Search for Gunmen Linked to Ingushetia Violence


Police in the Russian republic of Ingushetia are searching for the unidentified gunmen who killed six Russian soldiers and wounded seven Thursday near the border with the volatile republic of Chechnya.

Interior Ministry officials in Ingushetia say commandos fanned out across the woods near the republic's border with Chechnya Friday, in the hope of finding an estimated 30 men believed to be responsible for the attack on the Russian military convoy.

According to the ministry, the gunmen fired grenade launchers and machine guns at the federal soldiers, who returned fire. But the attackers managed to escape.

The attack came on a day of heavy rebel activity in the Northern Caucasus republic, which has increasingly seen spillover violence from the war in neighboring Chechnya.

Russian military officials on Friday denied an earlier report that a military helicopter was shot down in southern Chechnya, saying it crashed because of adverse weather conditions. The officials say the pilot was killed, and two other crew members survived, but are in serious condition.

One year ago this month, Chechen separatist rebels shot down an overcrowded transport helicopter, killing 118 soldiers. It was one of the worst Russian military disasters since federal troops returned to Chechnya in 1999 for a second campaign to end its separatist rebellion.

Russian military helicopters have routinely been the targets of rebel attacks during the Chechen wars.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long claimed that Chechnya is returning to normal. Elections there are scheduled for October as a way to solidify the peace. But critics say there can be no fair elections as long as large numbers of Russian troops remain in the republic, and the fighting continues.