VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) — An explosion hit the motorcade of Chechnya’s acting president on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding three others, officials said.
Acting President Sergei Abramov, who took the reins of the violence-plagued region when its president was assassinated in May, was not injured in the blast in the Chechen capital Grozny, said Ruslan Atsayev, press secretary of the Chechnya’s interior Ministry.
One person was killed and three wounded, he said. The Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies reported that the dead victim was one of Abramov’s bodyguards. A Chechen government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the victims were not traveling in Abramov’s car.
Citing an aide to Abramov, Igor Tarasov, Interfax reported that the explosion occurred as the motorcade was traveling through Grozny’s Lenin district, an area where violence is common. Reports differed as to whether Abramov’s car had already passed the spot of the explosion or not yet reached it.
Eighteen members of the republic’s presidential security service and 24 insurgents were killed in heavy fighting over the past two days, officials said Tuesday. The toll was one of the highest reported in a single clash in many months in Chechnya, where rebels, Russian forces and their Chechen security force allies have been fighting for nearly five years.
Security force head Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of assassinated Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, Interfax that the fighting began late Monday and ended Tuesday morning around the village of Avtury, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of the Chechen capital Grozny.
Interfax quoted Chechen deputy interior minister Ruslan Alkhanov as saying that 24 rebels were killed and Kadyrov as saying 18 members of the security service had died.
The security force is widely feared in Chechnya, with Chechens and human rights organizations blaming it for abductions and other abuse of civilians.
Rights groups in Moscow said Tuesday that Ingushetia, which borders on Chechnya, was being destabilized by a rising number of abductions, and they accused Russian forces of complicity.
Some observers suggest Ingush authorities are complicit or give tacit approval to the seizures, though Ingush President Murat Zyazikov has blamed them on forces in Chechnya.
Oleg Orlov, of the Memorial rights group, said killings of captives are becoming increasingly common, and he alleged that paramilitaries associated with Russian forces have carried out such murders, sometimes at military posts.
“People are being killed not only in military clashes, but also by kidnappers — unarmed and without resistance,” Orlov said. “From any point of view, this can only be considered a crime.”
He said that because Russian prosecutors are doing little to investigate, Moscow is losing the support of residents of Ingushetia. Ninety people were killed last month in an overnight militant assault on police installations in the republic.
“With their own hands, Russian special forces can create a wider base of support for militants in Ingushetia than already exists,” Orlov said. “Which is what they’ve already done in Chechnya.”
Russian forces have been bogged down in Chechnya since 1999, when they returned after rebel raids on a neighboring Russian region. The Russians fought an unsuccessful 1994-96 war against separatists that left Chechnya de facto independent.