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Russia Says Kills Two Daghestan Rebel Leaders

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian security forces shot dead two senior rebel leaders and several followers in separate operations in southern Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement today.

The statement, faxed to Reuters, said Marat Kurbanov, known as the "Emir of Daghestan," was shot dead along with two junior rebels late on January 9 outside the village of Shamkhal in Daghestan as the trio were transporting explosives in a car., a website which has links to the Islamist rebel movement, said three people in a car were killed late on January 9 but it was not clear who they were.

Russia is fighting an escalating Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus, particularly in Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya, and President Dmitry Medvedev has called the upsurge in violence the country's biggest domestic political problem.

The FSB said Kurbanov had been appointed "Emir of Daghestan" by rebels after his predecessor Umalat Magomedov was killed in December under similar circumstances.

It said the information received during the January 9 raid had helped its agents identify a hideout of another senior insurgent, Madrid Begov, a Russian special-police soldier who defected and had turned against the authorities.

The FSB has said security forces "neutralized" Begov after storming a private house in Daghestan's capital of Makhachkala this morning.

The also mentioned a firefight in a house in Makhachkala this morning and said one "mujahedin" was reportedly killed, but it did not identify the dead fighter.

On January 6 a suicide bomber killed seven policemen and wounded another 20 people in Daghestan by detonating a car packed with explosives at a traffic police depot. After the attack, President Medvedev said the "bandits" should be "eliminated."