NALCHIK, Russia – At least 14 suspected militants and two police officers were killed during security raids in Russia's volatile North Caucasus, police said Saturday.
Nine suspected militants were killed in two separate shootouts with police in the Kabardino-Balkariya republic late Friday, a police spokesman Roman Golubev told The Associated Press. Two of those killed were suspected of organizing a bombing in May that killed one man and wounded dozens, Russia's Investigative Committee, the country's main investigative body, said in a statement.
Separately, five suspected militants and two police officers were killed in another shootout Friday in the nearby republic of Dagestan, local police spokesman Magomed Tagirov said.
Those militants allegedly had ties to warlord Magomedali Vagabov, who was behind the Moscow metro bombings in April that 40 killed people and left scores wounded, the investigative agency statement said. Vagabov himself was killed in a shootout with security forces in Dagestan last week, authorities said.
Security forces were searching the mountains outside the village of Gubden on Saturday for the group's remaining members, Dagestan police spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov said.
Russia has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in its southern regions following two wars in Chechnya in the past 15 years. The militants say they seek an Islamic emirate across the North Caucasus. While violence has subsided in Chechnya, militants are becoming increasingly active in neighboring regions.
More than 30 militants have been killed in raids in North Caucasus this month and a number of "terrorist attacks" have been prevented, federal security chief Alexander Bortnikov told President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday in remarks broadcast on state-run television.
Rights activists say the militants' attacks have been provoked in part by extrajudicial killings, torture and kidnappings allegedly carried out by police under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Dagestan's leader appealed to Medvedev earlier this month to bolster security forces in the republic, citing a surge in terrorist activity.
Associated Press writers Sergey Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.