NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) -- Four Russian police officers and at least two suspected rebels were killed when a residential building exploded during a police raid in the violence-plagued region of Ingushetia, officials said.
The two-story building in Nazran, around 1,500 kilometers south of Moscow, exploded when special forces officers forced entry to detain a group of suspected rebels, a police officer at the scene told Reuters.
"Three special forces officers died at the scene and another died later in hospital," the officer said.
The bodies of three suspected rebels were later pulled from the rubble, an investigator said on condition of anonymity.
"They were suicide bombers who the police were looking for," he said.
Interfax news agency quoted Ingushetia's Prosecutor-General Yuri Turygin as saying four police and two rebels had been confirmed dead.
Financed From Abroad
Attacks by Islamic rebels against government officials and security forces have plagued Ingushetia, one of Russia's poorest regions, for years.
The government says rebels are financed from abroad and seek to destabilize the North Caucasus region, scene of two separatist wars in Chechnya since the early 1990s.
Critics of the government say corruption, heavy-handed behavior by the authorities, and high unemployment are the main reasons behind the instability and violence.
The standoff began when police who arrived to check the building early on February 12 were fired on from a window, the police officer said.
The building was quickly surrounded and special forces attempted to storm it two hours later.
"Two armored personnel carriers arrived and they began to fire," said Sulumbek, 54, an eyewitness told Reuters. "Then there was a huge explosion, which threw me to one side."
Interfax news agency quoted local leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who lives nearby, as saying explosives equivalent to one ton of TNT destroyed the building and damaged neighboring properties.
Residents say violence has decreased since Yevkurov replaced highly unpopular secret police officer Murat Zyazikov as the region's leader in October.