Russians mourning 17 bombing victims in North Caucasus; 10 others reported killed in clashes

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (AP) — Clashes between police and alleged militants left 10 more people dead Friday in Russia's volatile North Caucasus, even as stunned residents laid flowers in a square where a suicide car bombing killed 17 people and wounded more than 140 a day earlier.

The bombing on Thursday near the central market of Vladikavkaz, the capital of the North Ossetia republic, was the most serious attack in Russia since the March subway bombings in Moscow that killed 40 people.

Russia's ethnically diverse North Caucasus region has been gripped by violence stemming from two separatist wars in Chechnya and fueled by poverty, rampant official corruption and alleged extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture by law enforcement officials.

In the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan on Friday, the Interior Ministry said police killed four suspected militants holed up in a house in the village of Makhargi. Three police officers were killed during the hours of battle.

Police also killed a suspected militant during a raid on a house in the town of Derbent, near the border with Azerbaijan, said Magomed Tagirov, a spokesman for the regional Interior Ministry's branch.

A Dagestani policeman and a prison warden were also shot to death in separate attacks, ministry officials said Friday.

The Vladikavkaz market was cordoned off Friday and investigators combed the site for clues about Thursday's bombing, which was so powerful that glass in nearby buildings shattered.

Flags flew at half-staff throughout the city. The area was cleaned of blood and shreds of clothing, but twisted wrecks of several cars still littered the street.

A North Ossetia health official said 107 of the wounded were in local hospitals and 11 severely injured victims had been flown to Moscow, according to state news agency ITAR-Tass.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to track down the perpetrators, saying "the terrorists involved in such actions will be destroyed."

The U.N. Security Council also "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that occurred in Vladikavkaz," calling it a "heinous act of terrorism."

A statement read by the council's current president, Turkey's U.N. Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan, reaffirmed that "any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation."

A few blocks from the blast site on Friday, weeping relatives and neighbors mourned two bombing victims: 54-year-old Yaselin Mamedova and 18-month-old Elnur Ashinov. Their bodies were being prepared for burial later in the day in line with Muslim practice.

There has been no public claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack, but suspicion fell on Islamic militants who launch frequent small attacks in neighboring North Caucasus republics, including Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Those three provinces have a Muslim majority, but North Ossetia is predominantly Orthodox Christian with a sizable Muslim minority.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Russia's top Muslim cleric after the blast and said Russia's 20 million Muslims should play a key role in eradicating Islamic extremism in the nation.

"The crimes like the one that was committed in the North Caucasus today are aimed at sowing enmity between our citizens. We mustn't allow this," Putin said at the Thursday meeting.

___

Associated Press writers Arsen Mollayev in Makhachkala, Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.