Source Pravda.Ru

Russian forces kill four rebels carrying anti-aircraft missiles in Chechnya

Russian forces in a pre-dawn raid on Friday shot dead four suspected rebels in possession of two portable anti-aircraft missile systems near the main air base in war-torn Chechnya, a military spokesman said.

The operation took place in a village outside the regional capital, Grozny, near the Khankala air base, said Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin, chief spokesman for the federal forces in Russia's North Caucasus.

The four dead suspected militants included a citizen of the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, he said.

"The bandits under cover of darkness were sneaking around and looking for a vantage point to fire the Strela anti-aircraft missile to shoot down aircraft," the federal forces' press service said in a statement.

Russian forces battling rebels in the breakaway southern republic of Chechnya have lost a number of helicopters to ground fire.

Russia's Defense Ministry said last month that the military has lost 15 aircraft and 22 pilots in action over Chechnya since 2001.

In Russia's worst military aviation catastrophe, an overcrowded Mi-26 heavy transport helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile as it prepared to land at the Khankala base near the Chechen capital in August 2002. Burning fuel gushed into the cabin, killing 127 of the 147 passengers.

Associated Press

On the photo: Maj. Gen. Ilya Shabalkin