NAZRAN, Russia (Reuters) – Two Russian soldiers were killed in an ambush in the Caucasus region of Ingushetia on Saturday, authorities said, and unofficial sources said the death toll could be much higher.
A spokeswoman for the regional Interior Ministry said a 10-vehicle column of Interior Ministry troops had been attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic gunfire which killed two soldiers and wounded nine.
A regional law enforcement source said earlier 40 had died.
“This is not true,” the Interior Ministry spokeswoman said.
Interior Ministry troops sealed off the area to search for the attackers, making independent confirmation unfeasible. Russian television showed vehicles stopped at police checkpoints.
It was one of the most serious in a recent series of attacks on troops in Ingushetia, a small territory bordering Chechnya. A toll of 40 would make it the most deadly.
The law enforcement source said all but one soldier in the column was killed.
“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 had been hit by automatic rifle fire and grenades.
The Interior Ministry spokeswoman said the convoy had come under fire near between the villages of Muzhichi and Galashki, about 25 km (15 miles) east of the regional capital Nazran and almost within sight of the border with Chechnya
Troops were checking vehicles at the border. A Muzhichi resident, reached by telephone in the hours after the attack, said troops had sealed off the village and were checking passports while two helicopters circled overhead.
An opposition website, which moved from ingushetiya.ru to ingushetia.org after its former owner Magomed Yevloyev was shot dead in police custody seven weeks ago, said the toll was far higher and that troops had been killed in two separate attacks.
Around 50 soldiers died in the first attack, the website said. Two more were killed when another convoy, sent to reinforce the first, came under attack, it added.
The Interior Ministry spokeswoman said there had been only one convoy. The shootout lasted 10-15 minutes, she said.
The opposition website announced the cancellation of a demonstration planned for Sunday to protest against what it calls a less than objective investigation of Yevloyev’s death. One of the organizers had been detained, the website said.
Local authorities had declined permission for the protest.
Ingushetia, a poor, mainly Muslim republic, has suffered from an overspill of violence from the wars in neighboring Chechnya. Moscow is struggling to contain an insurgency by Islamist militants who regularly kill officials in ambushes and bomb attacks.
In a separate incident in another Ingush village, Russian news agencies reported that a car had exploded outside a school, in a possible suicide bombing.
(Writing by Melissa Akin; editing by Andrew Roche)