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Russian officials die in Chechnya crash

Chechnya file pic
Chechen separatists are fighting for independence from Russia.  

VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia (CNN) -- A helicopter carrying 14 people crashed Sunday in Chechnya, killing everyone aboard, including Russia's deputy interior minister, Kremlin officials said.

The government called the incident a terrorist act based on a preliminary investigation that indicated a surface-to-air missile struck the helicopter.

Rebels have been fighting since the early 1990s to make Chechnya, a largely Muslim state, independent from Russia.

In addition to Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Rudchenko, the victims included the deputy commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and several other officers.

The helicopter left from Russia's military base in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and was headed to the neighboring republic of North Ossetia when it crashed at about 11:30 a.m. local time.

Initial reports indicated the helicopter exploded in midair, but investigators at the scene said it crashed after being hit by a missile fired from the ground.

There was no immediate word from the rebels, although they historically have not commented on individual attacks.

Moscow, which has blamed the rebels with killing scores of pro-Russian local officials as well as Russian soldiers and officials each year, occupies most of the North Caucasus state.

The United States and other Western governments have criticized Russia for its excessive use of military muscle and its widespread detainment of suspected rebels.

Moscow claims the Chechen rebels are part of a broad international terrorism network, funded in part by Osama bin Laden.

Russian officials strongly reiterated this contention in September following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and the shooting down of another helicopter over Chechnya, killing 10 senior Russian officers.

"Every day, bandits bring pain to Russians on bin Laden's money," Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov told the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta at the time.


• Russia: Chechen rebels killed
December 31, 2001
• Europe sends monitors to Chechnya
December 2, 2001

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