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Terrorists kill three holidaymakers in Russian ski resort


Three Russian tourists were shot dead in an apparent terrorist attack near a ski resort in the south of the country at the weekend. The killings further dented Moscow's ambitious plan to turn the troubled North Caucasus region into a world-class ski destination and promote the sport ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held at the nearby resort of Sochi.

The attack was part of a wave of violence over the weekend in the area around Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe and one of Russia's prime winter sports destinations.

The three holidaymakers who died were part of a group of five Muscovites heading to the Elbrus area for a skiing trip. They had hired a minibus to take them from the airport to the resort. It was stopped on the road on Saturday by men pretending to be police officers, who asked to see their documents. When the passengers asked to see identification, the men opened fire, then fled in a car. Three of the tourists died instantly; two were in hospital last night.

It was one of a number of attacks in the volatile Kabardino-Balkaria region at the weekend. A cable-car support pole was also blown up, bringing down dozens of cabins. And the head of a nearby village was shot dead on Saturday. Later that Saturday, hotels in the resort were evacuated after a car packed with explosives was found.

Kabardino-Balkaria – like nearby Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia – suffers from frequent attacks by rebels who want to build an Islamic state in the North Caucasus. Last month, the same rebels – led by Doku Umarov, the self-proclaimed "Emir of the Caucasus" – struck at Domodedovo airport in Moscow. Thirty-six people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up himself in the arrivals hall.

But attacks in the North Caucasus itself are usually focused on government officials, police and the security services. The targeting of tourists is unusual and a blow to Kremlin officials who want to portray the region as a tourist paradise.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Russia's President, Dmitry Medvedev, unveiled a £10bn plan to build five world-class ski resorts in the North Caucasus, including one at Elbrus, which would attract more than five million visitors a year.

Last week, Mr Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were in Sochi for the first competitive events on new ski slopes that have been built for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Games are a pet project of Mr Putin, and despite widespread allegations of corruption in the construction of the venues, the government has promised that everything will be ready on time.

In the aftermath of the Domodedovo attack, the International Olympic Committee said it had "no doubt" that the Russian authorities would be able to provide adequate security for the Games. But rebel websites have promised that participating athletes will be targeted during the event.