MUZHICHY, Russia An armed group raided a village in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia overnight and killed three men linked to the security forces, witnesses said on Wednesday, adding to growing instability in the area.
Police and special forces patrolled in armoured personnel carriers on Wednesday around the dusty village of Muzhichy which nestles in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains in southern Ingushetia next to Chechnya.
An eyewitness said a group of 15 armed men dragged the three men from a group standing outside a shop late on Tuesday night and shot them in a well-planned attack.
"The whole attack lasted no more than 15 minutes," lawyer Isa Gandarov told Reuters. "There were no more than 15 rebels and they spoke in Chechen, Ingush and Russian."
Russian news agencies said the dead men were a policeman, a former interior ministry officer and a military teacher.
This is the latest in a string of attacks against the authorities in Ingushetia in which dozens of policemen, judges and other officials have died. Human rights groups accuse the authorities of reacting with excessive force to the attacks.
Most of the people living in Muzhichy hurried on when asked for comment. One women said in an exasperated voice: "Why were these people killed? Because they were trying to support their families?"
Last year the central government in Moscow boosted the number of its soldiers in Ingushetia and declared a counter-terrorist operation in the region to combat increased rebel operations.
Rebel activity has shifted from Chechnya to neighbouring Ingushetia and Dagestan over the last couple of years after the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader improved security in Chechnya -- where rebels have fought two wars since 1994.
Now military helicopters fly hourly over Ingushetia and the army sweeps the roadsides daily for bombs.
(Writing by James Kilner; Editing by Caroline Drees)