MOSCOW - Chechen rebels took four hostages and killed nine border guards early yesterday in a raid on a remote village in the neighboring Russian republic of Dagestan.
The rebels fled from their target, the highland village of Shauri. By evening, Interior Ministry police, border guards and several military helicopters were pursuing them.
The band of fighters, driving a stolen truck with hostages in tow, headed into the Caucasus mountains and seemed to be aiming for the Georgian border. Bad weather and low visibility hampered the search, Dagestani Interior Ministry officials told the Russian news service Interfax.
Other rebels split off from the hostage-takers. They appeared headed in small groups toward the Georgian border or back into the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Chechnya has launched numerous attacks and suicide bombings on Russian territory since it began struggling to break free in the early 1990s. Dagestan played a part in Chechens' second bloody push for independence, in August 1999, when fighters crossed the border and seized several Dagestani villages. Russians saw it as an attempt to combine Chechnya and Dagestan into one Islamic state.
The rebels in yesterday's attack were part of a force of 25 to 30 people who slipped into the highland village about 3 a.m.
Armed with guns and grenade launchers, they seized a small hospital and took four people hostage: a physician, a hospital worker, an unemployed man and a university student, police told Interfax.
A village resident told border guards about the attack. As the guards pursued one group of rebels, another group ambushed them, killing nine.
"They are incapable of large actions, but they will commit minor terrorist acts and take hostages," Dagestani Parliament Speaker Mukhu Aliyev told Interfax. Officials said 300 Interior Ministry police officers units were helping border guards and police hunt the rebels.
Where the fighters came from was unclear. Some law enforcement officials have speculated they came into Russia from Georgia through the mountains.
However, officials from Georgia, which Russia has criticized in the past for acting as a resting place for Chechen rebels, said the band couldn't have come in from its territory.
Shalva Londaridze of the Georgian Border Department told Interfax that the Dagestani segment of the Russian-Georgian border registered no such crossings.