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Russia Defends Plan to House World Cup Teams in Chechnya

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko speaks during a press conference on World Cup 2018 issues in Moscow, Russia, April 29, 2015.

World Cup organizers in Russia have defended the possibility of housing teams for the 2018 World Cup in the country's volatile North Caucasus regions, including Chechnya.

The Chechen capital of Grozny is on a preliminary list of team bases for the tournament despite an incident in December when Islamist militants waged a gun battle with police that left at least 20 dead.

Another possible city is Makhachkala in the neighboring region of Dagestan, which also has a long-running Islamist insurgency. In recent years, UEFA forced local club Anzhi Makhachkala to hold home European games in Moscow, citing security concerns in Makhachkala.

“There will be inspections but I'm sure there are teams that might prefer Grozny or Makhachkala or other cities where they have good relations with the administration,” World Cup organizing committee CEO Alexei Sorokin told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We have full assurances from the regional authorities that security will be organized at the highest level.”

Cities hosting training bases require approval from FIFA, Sorokin said, although that process is focused on the suitability of hotels.

The idea of hosting a team in cities such as Grozny has also received support from Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko as a way to spread the World Cup's legacy around Russia.

Russia fought two wars against Chechen separatists in the 1990s and early 2000s. The security situation has quietened under the rule of regional head Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of numerous human rights abuses.

Kadyrov previously pitched Grozny as a candidate to host World Cup games in 2018, although it was not put forward by Russia during the bidding process.

Both Grozny and Makhachkala host Russian league clubs with few soccer-related security incidents in recent years.

However, in January, an Anzhi Makhachkala youth team player, 20-year-old Gasan Magomedov, was shot dead near his home in Dagestan in what Russian media later reported was a case of mistaken identity.

While Terek Grozny's players live in Chechnya, Anzhi based its players in Moscow during a period when it spent big to acquire world-class players such as Samuel Eto'o and Willian.

The players flew into Makhachkala for home games before returning to Moscow.