Russian forces killed seven militants including an alleged would-be suicide bomber during a sweep in the south of the country three weeks before the Sochi Winter Olympics, officials said yesterday.
The National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the militants killed in the majority-Muslim North Caucasus region of Dagestan were possibly linked to an attack on a restaurant in which 16 people were injured on Friday evening.
"Seven militants were killed," a spokesman for the anti-terrorist committee said, noting that a senior local militant and a young woman who was allegedly trained to become a suicide bomber were among the dead.
Yesterday's sweep was conducted in the main Dagestani city of Makhachkala, where a car bomb went off near a restaurant on Friday evening.
The car blew up after unidentified assailants fired at the restaurant from a grenade launcher prompting security personnel to rush to the scene.
As a result of the bombing, 16 people were wounded including police officers, the Investigative Committee said in a separate statement.
Twin attacks are a signature tactic of militants who are fighting to carve out their own state in the North Caucasus and have pledged to strike the Winter Games in Sochi, which begin on February 7.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly vowed to ensure safety during the Games in the Black Sea resort, which has gone into unprecedented security lockdown mode.
"Our goal - the goal of the organisers - is to ensure the security of Olympic Games participants and guests," Putin said in a fragment of a pre-recorded interview with foreign reporters aired on Russian state television on Friday. "If we betray weakness, betray fear - display our fear - then we will be helping terrorists achieve their goals."
Besides Dagestan and Ingushetia, North Caucasus includes Chechnya, where Russian forces have fought separatists for the past 20 years.
The impoverished, corruption-infested region is the site of regular attacks on officials but the violence has recently been spilling outside the North Caucasus.