MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security forces on Monday killed an Islamist militant leader who masterminded attacks in the North Caucasus and threatened Moscow, federal authorities said.
A decade after federal forces drove a separatist government from power in Chechnya, Moscow is fighting Islamist insurgents seeking to create an independent state in Russia's mostly Muslim North Caucasus.
Russian news agencies quoted the National Anti-terror Committee (NAK) as saying security forces shot dead Israpil Validzhanov and three companions early on Monday in Dagestan, the violence-plagued province east of Chechnya.
It said the militants had opened fire on members of the security forces who tried to stop their car.
Validzhanov was the top representative in Dagestan of North Caucasus insurgency leader Doku Umarov, who claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on Moscow's busiest airport in January, in which 37 people were killed.
"Special forces together with law enforcement officers neutralized four active members of the bandit underground, among them the leader of Dagestan's bandits, Israpil Validzhanov," the state-run RIA agency quoted NAK as saying.
Known among insurgents as Amir Khasan, Validzhanov received training in a separatist militant camp in 1998 in Chechnya, where he fought federal forces which entered the region the following year in the second of two wars since 1994, NAK said.
It said Validzhanov was also responsible for dozens of attacks since the war died down a decade ago.
Dagestan, a multi-ethnic republic between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, is now considered the heart of the insurgency.
(Reporting by Thomas Grove; editing by Andrew Dobbie)