Russian security forces killed three rebels in the Caucasus, including a leading militant blamed for planning a suicide strike on an firing range that embarrassed the military, officials said on Sunday.
The clash took place late on Saturday outside a house in the town of Buinaksk in the troubled Caucasus region of Dagestan, which has seen a surge in militant attacks in recent months, the National Anti-Terror Committee said.
"Three bandits who were surrounded in a private house were neutralised as a result of the clashes, which took place after they refused to negotiate," it said in a statement.
One of the bodies is suspected to be that of Sakhratula Nazhmudinov, known by his non-de-guerre of Pushtun who is believed to have organised the September suicide attack on the firing range in Buinaksk, it said.
The attack killed four soldiers and wounded 32, raising questions over how the bomber was able to penetrate so easily inside what should be a well-protected military facility.
Nazhmudinov is also suspected of being behind shootings on the civilian population, explosions at industrial plants and attacks on police.
The violence in Dagestan, the North Caucasus' most populous region bordering Chechnya, had rattled the Kremlin and last week gunmen killed seven police in a shooting rampage in the main city Makhachkala.
The Kremlin has been fighting insurgents in the North Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union, waging a war in 1994-1996 against separatist rebels in Chechnya, which neighbours Dagestan to the west.
After a second war in Chechnya in 1999, the rebellion's inspiration moved towards Islam with the aim of imposing an Islamic state in the region.
Although the war ended in 2000, rebels have waged an increasingly deadly insurgency with unrest spreading into other areas of the North Caucasus such as Dagestan and Ingushetia.