A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy carrying the president of the troubled Russian province of Ingushetia on Monday, critically wounding him and killing two bodyguards, the latest in a string of assassination attempts that have roiled the North Caucasus.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on Yunus Bek Yevkurov, a sharp escalation of the violence that has targeted police and government officials with growing frequency in provinces surrounding Chechnya.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for a “direct and harsh” response to the attacks, which he linked to federal and local efforts to bring calm to the North Caucasus after nearly 15 years of war, crime and terrorism in Chechnya.
“The bandits actively dislike this,” he said.
The Kremlin has insisted that calm is returning after nearly 15 years of war, crime and terrorism in Chechnya.
Yevkurov, who used to work for the GRU foreign intelligence service, was appointed president in October after the Kremlin forced out the region’s longtime leader Murat Zyazikov.
The bomber attacked at about 8:30 a.m. as Yevkurov traveled outside the Ingush provincial center, Nazran. A car maneuvered around a police escort vehicle, drove directly into the convoy and then exploded, said Svetlana Gorbakova, a spokeswoman for the Ingush Investigative Committee and other officials.
Presidential spokesman Kaloi Akhilgov said Yevkurov suffered a serious concussion and broken ribs, but that his life was not danger. Hospital and emergency officials, however, said the president was in critical condition, with burns, brain injuries and damage to internal organs.
Yevkurov’s burnt-out armored sedan stood in the grass off the roadside, its windows shattered, its wheels missing and most of its front end destroyed. Shrapnel was scattered for hundreds of meters (yards) and there was blood on the ground in several places. Two roadside houses had their roofs damaged and their windows shattered.
Yevkurov was the third top official to be wounded or killed in Ingushetia in the past three weeks and the fourth in the North Caucasus this month.
Ingushetia is home to hundreds of refugees from the wars in Chechnya, to the east, and is one of Russia’s poorest provinces. Like other North Caucasus regions, it has seen an alarming spike in violence in recent years.
Much of the violence is linked to the two separatist wars that ravaged Chechnya over the past 15 years, but persistent poverty, corruption, feuding ethnic groups and the rise of radical Islam also are blamed.
Law enforcement forces have been conducting sweeps of the forested regions along Ingushetia’s border with Chechnya in recent months, trying to keep militants from moving into Ingushetia.
On June 10, gunmen killed the region’s deputy chief Supreme Court justice opposite a kindergarten in Nazran as she dropped her children off. Three days later, the region’s former deputy prime minister was gunned down as he stood outside his home in Nazran.
On June 5, the top law enforcement officer of another North Caucasus province, Dagestan, was killed by a sniper as he stood outside a restaurant where a wedding was taking place.
That killing prompted Medvedev to travel to Dagestan to showcase the Kremlin’s campaign to bring calm to the North Caucasus.
Meeting top security officials in Moscow on Monday, Medvedev said Yevkurov “has done a lot to bring order and but also to bring a civil peace to the region. The bandits actively dislike this.”
“Of course everything that has happened is a consequence of the strengthening of the position of the administration and their work in all forms,” he said in televised comments.
Later, Medvedev told the president of Chechnya that the fight against terrorism “should be continued so those who commit these acts understand that the reaction will be direct and harsh.”
Suicide bombings have been rare in Russia in recent years. The most recent occurred in May when a person detonated explosives outside police headquarters in the Chechen capital Grozny, killing four police officers and wounding five.
Akhilgov, Yevkurov’s spokesman, noted that Monday was the fifth anniversary of nighttime attacks on police and government in Ingushetia that killed nearly six dozen people, most of them police.