Georgians among Islamists killed near Russian border

image source, AFP
image captionTroops were sent to the area after reports the militants had seized hostages

Georgia has admitted that at least two of 11 suspected Islamists killed in clashes last week were Georgians.

Originally the Georgian government said they were all foreign extremists, who crossed from Russia's North Caucasus.

The government said the 11 were killed - along with three Georgian troops - during an operation to free hostages they were believed to be holding.

A BBC correspondent says there are fears the incident could increase tensions between Russia and Georgia.

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Thursday, the day after the clashes: "We understand quite well in whose interests it was, it can only be in the interests of our enemy."

Some observers suggested that was a reference to Russia.

Invasion fear

But the Georgian interior ministry said on Monday that two of those killed were Georgian citizens, and named them as Aslan Margoshvili and Bahaudin Kavtarashvili.

It said five of the remaining nine suspects had been identified and were all from the Russian republics of Chechnya or Ingushetia.

Those two republics have been a hotbed of Islamist insurgency against Russia's rule in the North Caucasus.

The admission that some of the suspects were Georgian - and the implication of links between Islamist insurgents in Russia and Georgia - could be destabilising, says the BBC's Damien McGuinness in Tbilisi.

It now appears that the group was on its way from the Pankisi Gorge, a Muslim-populated region in Georgia itself, he says.

The Chechen rebel internet news agency Kavkaz-Centre denied the group had taken hostages, but was travelling to Russia to conduct an operation there.

There are fears in Tbilisi that the Kremlin could use any perceived loss of control by the Georgian authorities s a pretext for invading Georgia, our correspondent says.

Georgia and Russia fought a war in 2008 and relations have remained tense ever since.

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