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Russia Launches Caucasus Crackdown After Attack

NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia's armed forces have launched a counterterrorist operation in the North Caucasus region of Ingushetia after an attack on a convoy of Interior Ministry troops.

State-controlled Russian news agencies reported that two soldiers had died but a regional law enforcement source said 40 were killed in the attack, making it the most deadly in a recent series of attacks on troops in Ingushetia, a small territory bordering Chechnya.

"The soldiers didn't even manage to resist, because several rocket-propelled grenades hit their trucks," the source said, adding that three armored personnel carriers and two trucks were hit by automatic-rifle fire and grenades.

All but one soldier traveling in the convoy were killed, the source said.

Russian news agencies quoted a spokesman for the region's Interior Ministry as saying two soldiers had been killed and five wounded. The agencies reported that one armored personnel carrier and two trucks had been damaged in the shooting.

RIA Novosti quoted the regional prosecutor, Yury Turygin, as saying the attack was carried out by as many as 20 fighters from Chechnya and Ingushetia.

A spokesman for the Ingushetian Interior Ministry said earlier that a convoy came under fire near the village of Muzhichi, about 25 kilometers east of the regional capital, Nazran, but was unable to confirm casualties.

Troops were checking vehicles at the border with Chechnya. A Muzhichi resident, reached by telephone, said troops had barricaded the village and were checking passports while two helicopters circled overhead.

Second Attack?

An opposition website, which moved from to several weeks after its former owner, Magomed Yevloyev, was shot in the head while in police custody, said the toll was higher and troops were killed in two separate attacks.

Around 50 soldiers were killed in the first attack, while one survived with serious head wounds, the website said. Two more were killed when another convoy, sent to reinforce the first, came under attack, it said.

The website announced the cancellation of a demonstration planned for October 19 to protest what it calls a less than objective investigation of Yevloyev's death.

Local authorities had declined permission for the protest and the regional prosecutor said it could attract mischief.

Ingushetia, a poor, mainly Muslim republic, has suffered from an overspill of violence from neighboring Chechnya in two separatist wars there.

In a separate incident in another Ingush village, Russian news agencies reported that a car had exploded outside a school in a possible suicide bomb.

Moscow is struggling to contain an insurgency in the region by Islamist militants who regularly kill officials in ambushes and bomb attacks.

The brother of Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov, an official in the regional bus network system, was shot in the head at an intersection in Nazran last month.

At the end of September, a suicide car bomber blew himself up in an apparent attempt to kill the region's interior minister.