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Truck bomb signals trouble on Russia's southern flank

A week of regional violence climaxed Monday in Ingushetia when a suicide bomber blew a hole in a heavily fortified police headquarters, killing at least 20.

By Correspondent / August 17, 2009

Emergency workers look through debris at a destroyed police station in Nazran, Ingushetia, Russia, Monday. A suicide bomber exploded a truck at a police station in Russia's restive North Caucasus Monday, killing at least 20 people and wounding 60 others, officials said.

Musa Sadulayev/AP

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A week of extremist attacks on Russia's seething southern flank climaxed Monday with a suicide truck bombing in Ingushetia that killed at least 20 and injured scores outside a police station in the tiny republic's main city, Nazran.

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The resulting explosion triggered a "raging fire" that destroyed a weapons room, incinerated nearby cars, and damaged nearby apartment buildings, according to an Associated Press (AP) report from Nazran. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the region in years, the AP said.

Violence by Islamist insurgents, once confined mainly to separatist Chechnya, has gradually spread throughout much of Russia's northern Caucasus, leaving Russian authorities increasingly unable to guarantee order, or even protect pro-Moscow officials, in the mainly Muslim region. (See map.)

For Moscow, the stakes are huge. The northern Caucasus region is Russia's gateway to the energy-rich and strategically vital southern Caucasus, which includes the former Soviet nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

Worsening violence in the area could seriously disrupt the planned 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi, into which former President Vladimir Putin invested about $12 billion along with his own personal prestige.

Concerns Moscow could lose control
Long-simmering concerns that Moscow could lose control in the volatile northern Caucasus, where Chechen rebels have waged a persistent insurgency since 1991, are spiking again given the past week of attacks.

Monday's bombing in Ingushetia, which blew a huge hole in Nazran's fortified police headquarters, was reminiscent of attacks carried out by Chechen rebels at the height of that insurgency against Russian troops in the early days of Mr. Putin's 2000-08 term.

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