Sappers in Russia's insurgency-plagued Caucasus region defused a car bomb placed near a hotel in a popular ski resort area, police said Sunday.

The car, wired with explosives with the equivalent power of about 70 kilograms (155 pounds), was found Saturday, a day after three Russian tourists headed for the ski area were killed by masked gunmen and a ski lift was heavily damaged in an explosion.

The car bomb was parked near a small hotel in Terskol, a village in Kabardino-Balkariya, one of the republics in the Caucasus region that is gripped by rising violence connected to Islamic insurgents and criminal gangs, police spokesman Maxim Ushanov said.

Terskol is near Mount Elbrus, Europe's tallest mountain and a popular winter sports destination.

Russian officials in January announced a $15 billion plan to develop five large ski resorts in the Caucasus, an effort to address the poverty and high unemployment that feed the insurgency. The killing of the tourists, the ski lift bombing and the car bomb could discourage the foreign investment that Russia has sought for the project.

No claim of responsibility has been issued for the attacks, but insurgent leader Doku Umarov this month vowed that violence would increase if Russia does not give up the largely Muslim region. Umarov made that statement after the January suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport that killed 36 people; Umarov said he ordered that attack.

The insurgency has its roots in the two separatist wars fought since 1994 in the Caucasus republic of Chechnya, but has spread to neighboring provinces. Small attacks are reported almost daily.

In Dagestan, the most violent part of the region, three gunmen burst into a house where a female fortuneteller lived and killed her and her daughter, a police spokesman Vyacheslav Gasanov said Sunday. He said investigators believe the attackers were Islamic fundamentalists who regard fortunetelling as a sin.

Later Sunday, Gasanov said police killed one of the men suspected in the shooting after tracking him to a private residence.

Although Kabardino-Balkariya has been comparatively quiet, violence there appears to be spiking.

Ushanov said the head of administration of a village near the republic's capital was killed Saturday by gunmen who shot him in the workout room of the village's sports complex.

In the capital Nalchik, a traffic policeman mistakenly killed a police inspector who he suspected was an attacker, Ushanov said. The traffic policeman had called for assistance after stopping a suspicious car for a documents check; three inspectors in civilian clothes drove to the scene and got out of their car with assault rifles in their hands and the frightened traffic policeman opened fire, Ushanov said.


Arsen Mollaev in Makhachkala and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.