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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 18:50 GMT
Seven killed in N Caucasus siege
Personnel carrier near the scene of the events
The area was cordoned off by hundreds of troops (pic: Russian NTV)
Russian special forces have killed seven suspected militants, including four women, during a gun battle in the North Caucasus town of Nalchik.

The battle ended a two-day siege of an apartment block, where the suspects were holed up.

Russian officials say they have smashed a militant group called Yarmuk, linked to a December attack on a local anti-drug agency.

They say the group's leader, Muslim Atayev, was among those killed.

The siege was the culmination of an operation to round up members of the Islamist Yarmuk group, which officials linked to Chechen separatist rebels.

The group allegedly operated in the Kabardino-Balkaria republic, of which Nalchik is the capital.

Fierce fighting

The authorities blamed the group for the December attack, in which four policemen were killed and a large amount of weapons was seized.

On Thursday, the Chechen rebel website Kavkaz-Tsentr published a statement attributed to Yarmuk, which said its members would "give battle whatever the outcome might prove to be" and would "either defeat the enemies or enter paradise".

The gun battle broke out on Thursday morning. The two flats, where the militants had been cornered, caught fire.

Two Russian troops were lightly wounded and rushed to hospital.

After the fire was extinguished, police entered the building but found nobody left alive.

Officials said women in the militant group had put up "active resistance" by firing machine-guns.

In the last few years, Islamist militants have conducted numerous attacks in the North Caucasus, the most notorious being the seizure of a school in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia.

The three-day siege of the school, where the attackers held more than 1,000 hostages, ended in a bloodbath, with 330 people dead and hundreds wounded.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See scenes from the siege



SEE ALSO:
North Caucasus: At a glance
08 Sep 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
05 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


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