Russia says killed senior Islamist rebel

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MAKHACHKALA, Russia, Sep 18 (Reuters) Russian forces have killed a senior Islamist rebel blamed for a series of attacks in the southern region of Dagestan including a 2002 bomb blast in which more than 40 people died, officials today said.

A Dagestani Interior Ministry spokesman said the body of Rappani Khalilov and his lieutenant were found after troops, backed by tanks, stormed a home in the town of Kizilyurt where they were hiding on Monday.

Khalilov, a former baker who joined a radical Muslim sect, took part with his forces in a high-profile 1999 raid on Dagestan from neighbouring Chechnya where Russian forces and rebels have fought two wars since 1994.

The raid triggered Russia's second military onslaught on Chechnya, which ended the region's short-lived effective independence from Moscow won in the first war of 1994-96.

Russia accuses Khalilov's fighters of being behind at least 13 attacks in Dagestan, including a bomb blast in the town of Kaspiisk in 2002 which killed at least 42 civilians.

Television pictures yesterday showed Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers approaching a house in the scruffy, sun-baked town of Kizilyurt, west of the Dagestani capital Makhachkala.

Black smoke poured from one of the houses and Russian soldiers carrying rifles and rocket propelled grenades moved stealthily from wall to wall.

Russian troops and local pro-Moscow militia have suppressed large-scale rebel activities in Chechnya. But rebel groups are increasingly active in the neighbouring provinces of Dagestan and Ingushetia.

REUTERS SS KP1418

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