ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia – A group of camouflage-clad men claiming to be security forces killed three Russian tourists and wounded two others in a Caucasus region afflicted by rising insurgent violence, police said Saturday.
The tourists were attacked Friday night as a minivan was transferring them from a regional airport to the winter sports resort area of Baksan in the republic of Kabardino-Balkariya, according to regional police spokesman Maxim Ushanov. Baksan is near Mount Elbrus, Europe's highest mountain and a popular ski area.
Also Saturday, Russian news reports said an explosion heavily damaged a ski lift on one of the slopes of Elbrus. The reports cited local law enforcement officials, who could not be reached for confirmation.
There was no immediate public claim of responsibility for either attack. Russia's Caucasus provinces are plagued by violence attributed to both Islamic insurgents and criminal gangs. Attacks on police and other authorities occur almost daily.
The Russian government last month unveiled a $15 billion plan to build five major ski resorts in the Caucasus, aiming to address the poverty and high unemployment that feed violence in the region. Attacks on tourists and resort infrastructure could potentially deter foreign investment in the projects.
"Programs for the development of tourism in the Northern Caucasus will not be changed, despite the obvious intention of these terrorist acts," Alexander Radykov, deputy head of the Federal Tourism Agency, was quoted as telling the state news agency RIA-Novosti on Saturday.
The attacks also are likely to contribute to anxiety about security at the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are to be held in the Caucasus resort area of Sochi, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) west of the Elbrus area.
According to Ushanov, the tourists were riding in a van taking them to Baksan from the airport in Mineralnye Vody when the vehicle was stopped by men in camouflage and masks who said they were security officers. The men demanded the tourists leave the vehicle and opened fire when they refused, he said.
Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.