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Moscow Times
June 23, 2009
Ingush Leader Injured in Car Bomb
By Nabi Abdullaev / The Moscow Times

Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov suffered serious injuries Monday when a car bomber blew up his vehicle near a presidential motorcade in the region's main city, Nazran.

The attempt on the life of the iron-fisted, retired paratrooper general, who launched a campaign against corruption and engaged the local opposition after his surprise appointment in October, deals a new setback to Kremlin attempts to stabilize the North Caucasus, where attacks have killed several senior officials this month.

A blast with the force of 70 kilograms of dynamite tore through the bomber's Toyota Camry sedan after it caught up with Yevkurov's motorcade of four cars at 8:30 a.m., the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The explosion killed Yevkurov's driver and a bodyguard and seriously wounded the president and his brother Uvais, who were riding in the same armored car, the statement said.

The unidentified attacker also died in the blast.

Yevkurov suffered a brain concussion, a ruptured liver, a torn lung, several broken ribs and a damaged knee, Interfax reported, citing officials at the Nazran hospital where Yevkurov underwent surgery shortly after the attack. The president's face, arms and legs were also badly burned, the report said.

Doctors said Monday afternoon that Yevkurov was in a stable condition.

President Dmitry Medvedev summoned Federal Security Service Director Alexander Bortnikov and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to the Kremlin and told them to find the "bandits" whom he said opposed Yevkurov's efforts to rein in the volatile region.

"The Ingush president personally has done a lot to bring order and build peace in the republic in recent months," Medvedev said.

The Investigative Committee opened an investigation, and its head, Alexander Bastrykin, flew to Ingushetia to take charge of it.

The Ingush branch of the Federal Security Service introduced a state of emergency in Nazran and the surrounding area that restricts people's movement and public assemblies. Still, about 1,000 well-wishers gathered outside the Nazran hospital where Yevkurov was being treated.

Later Monday, Yevkurov and his brother were airlifted to Moscow for further medical treatment on an airplane especially sent for them by the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Law enforcement officials were tight-lipped about the investigation. The only information leaked to the media on Monday was that the bomber's car had a Moscow license plate.

The attack -- like the assassinations of Ingush Supreme Court Judge Aza Gazgireyeva and Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov earlier this month -- galvanized senior officials to demand a harsh response from the government.

"We are dealing with a terrorist underground that is aiming to destabilize the situation in the region. For this, [they are] employing the cruelest methods," State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told reporters. "The answer to the challenge should be tough."

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov met with Medvedev and said afterward that he had promised the Kremlin that he would track down all terrorists in the North Caucasus. Last month, Kadyrov and Yevkurov agreed to work together to hunt rebels in the border area between the two republics.

No rebel groups active in the North Caucasus had claimed responsibility for the attack on their Kavkaz Center web site as of Monday evening.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika said the attack was most likely connected to the anti-government insurgency that has flared in Ingushetia in recent years or Yevkurov's attempts to root out corruption among Ingush officials.

Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin said he believed that Yevkurov's anti-corruption drive had prompted the attempt on his life.

Yevkurov has launched 22 high-profile corruption investigations into Ingush officials since Medvedev appointed him president in October. The Audit Chamber announced in May that financial violations committed by Ingush officials in 2008 alone amounted to 1.74 billion rubles (about $50 million).

Medvedev appointed Yevkurov to replace former FSB General Murat Zyazikov, whose reign was tarnished by corruption scandals and violent crackdowns on the political opposition in Ingushetia. Yevkurov started his term as president by inviting opposition leaders into his government, and, unlike his predecessor, he regularly meets with the leaders of Ingush public groups.

Yevkurov has also publicly called off a police practice of using brutal methods on religious dissenters and people suspected of ties to the rebels.

Still, local law enforcement officials continue to be implicated in abductions, torture and the killings of young men, although not as frequently as in previous years.

Rights groups Human Rights Watch and the Moscow Helsinki Group urged law enforcement agencies on Monday to stay within the limits of the law as they investigate the attack on Yevkurov and conduct a so-called anti-terrorist operation as part of the state of emergency.

Ingush Prime Minister Rashid Gaisanov assumed Yevkurov's responsibilities until the president returns to work.