The Russian military says Chechen rebels have shot down a Russian helicopter in Chechnya, killing nine servicemen. Moscow said its forces had launched a new offensive in the breakaway region following a recent hostage-taking staged by Chechen militants in Moscow.

The Russian military said the helicopter was brought down by a rocket fired by rebels on the edge of the Chechen capital, Grozny, not far from the main Russian military base in Chechnya.

Earlier, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that Russian forces had launched a major new operation in Chechnya.

Mr. Ivanov said troops have started a broad-scale and targeted offensive throughout the breakaway republic in southern Russia.

The Defense Chief added that intelligence reports show the Chechens are planning what he called "new acts of terror" in Chechnya and elsewhere.

Chechen rebels have often shot down Russian helicopters in the past, including one occasion in August that killed more than 100 soldiers.

But this latest incident comes with nerves still on edge due to the recent hostage crisis in a Moscow theater.

Chechen militants held close to 800 people hostage for almost three days before Russian troops used a gas to knock out the rebels and storm the theater.

More than 100 hostages were killed in the rescue attempt.

Russia has repeatedly rejected calls from the international community to seek a political solution to the bloody conflict in Chechnya, which has raged for most of the past eight-years.