MAKHACHKALA, Russia (Reuters) - At least three policemen and three suspected Islamist militants were killed in clashes in Russia's North Caucasus on Monday, media reported, underlining the Kremlin's struggle to contain violence there.
A decade after Russian federal forces drove separatists out of power in Chechnya, almost daily violence plagues the mainly Muslim North Caucasus where rebels want to establish an Islamic state under strict sharia law.
"The police returned fire at a group of militants, killing two of them," national anti-terror committee spokesman Nikolai Sintsov said on the state-run Rossiya 24 television channel, adding that those clashes took place in the Dagestan region.
He added that at least three policemen were also killed in the village of Kidero near Dagestan's western border with Chechnya. Dagestan is a multi-ethnic republic on the Caspian Sea considered the heart of the insurgency.
A rebel was also shot dead in the tiny Ingushetia region, Interfax news agency reported, citing police.
Over the weekend, also in Dagestan, an imam was shot dead in his house and rebels stole antique weapons from a museum, according to local media.
Political analysts say a suicide bomb attack on Moscow's busiest airport in January, in which 37 people were killed, is proof that the Kremlin is failing to contain the insurgency in the North Caucasus.
On Friday, rebel leader Doku Umarov hinted that he would organize more attacks.
The region's proximity to the Black Sea coastal town of Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is of deep concern for the Kremlin, which has vowed to beef up security for the event.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Mark Heinrich)