MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security services have killed 11 Islamist militants who had been helping smuggle fighters across borders to Syria to join Islamic State, the country’s anti-terrorism committee said.
It said the militants were holed up in a fortified base in a wooded, mountainous area of the Kabardino-Balkaria republic in southern Russia, near the city of Nalchik.
“The armed group organized channels for residents of the republic to be sent to the territory of the Syrian Arabic Republic so that they could take part in activities by terrorist groups,” the anti-terrorism committee said in a statement.
Russia began a large-scale bombing campaign against targets in Syria on Sept. 30, which Moscow says is focused on Islamic State militants but critics say targets a wider band of opponents of Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The focus on Islamic State has intensified since a Russian airliner was brought down by a bomb over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula with the loss of over 200 lives. The group says it planted the bomb as a response to actions by the Russian Air Force and predicted more attacks on Russia.
The anti-terrorism committee said the militants were also preparing a series of attacks in the North Caucasus region.
Moscow has for many years battled to quell an insurgency by militants in the North Caucasus, a patchwork of mainly Muslim republics on Russia’s southern rim, where separatists fought two wars in the 1990s.
Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Ralph Boulton