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Attacks kill 12 as tensions rise in Chechnya region

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- A bomb killed a senior police official and six other people yesterday in a volatile southern province bordering Chechnya, and five Russian soldiers were killed in a rebel ambush in Chechnya -- attacks that highlighted escalating tensions in the region.

Dzhabrail Kostoyev, a deputy interior minister in the provincial government of Ingushetia, was killed along with his two bodyguards and four civilians by the bomb on a roadside on the outskirts of Nazran, the region's biggest city, officials said.

Some officials initially said a suicide attacker had been in the car, but Russia's Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel later said the bomb apparently was detonated by remote control.

Kostoyev, a target of several previous attacks, had been traveling in an armored vehicle to work in Nazran in a convoy of three cars.

Ingush Interior Ministry spokesman Nazir Yevloyev said Kostoyev's SUV was thrown 20 yards by the blast, and Russian television networks showed the gutted vehicle on its side.

Four civilians were killed when their car plowed into Kostoyev's, Yevloyev said. Roman Shchekotin, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry's branch in southern Russia, said the bomb apparently had the force of about 110 pounds of TNT.

In Chechnya, five Russian soldiers were killed and six others were wounded when rebels ambushed a military convoy near Niki-Khita, a village in the southern Kurchaloi region, according to the regional branch of Russia's Interior Ministry.

Ingushetia, which neighbors Chechnya to the west in Russia's restive North Caucasus, has been plagued by militant attacks, many targeting law enforcement officials and facilities. A concerted attack targeting police in June 2004 killed 92 people.

In another republic of the North Caucasus, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, unidentified assailants fatally shot the acting chief of a jail in the city of Cherkessk early yesterday outside his home.

Poverty, corruption, and persecution connected with Islam have fueled anger at the authorities in the North Caucasus, an ethnically mixed strip of republics, most of which have large Muslim populations.

The region is troubled by violence in some cases linked to the conflict in Chechnya, where two wars have been fought in the past 12 years between federal forces and separatist rebels increasingly espousing extremist Islamic ideology.

Yevloyev suggested the attack was revenge for what he called Kostoyev's ''uncompromising struggle" against crime linked with extremism.

The Interfax news agency quoted Ingush Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoyev as saying that top North Caucasus militants, including leading Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, could have been behind the attack.

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