A masked guard clad in camouflage pokes his AK-47 rifle into the shoulder of a vodka-guzzling client in a hotel bar in Russia's Muslim Ingushetia region, and orders him to leave immediately. The state-employed security guard then leads the man and his coterie of quiet revellers out of the dimly lit bar.
"We heard reports rebels are on the prowl again and we want to prevent any damage," said the guard, who wished to remain anonymous.
At least a dozen places selling alcohol in the North Caucasus were attacked with grenades, bombs and gunfire over the last year as armed Islamists bent on installing sharia law have stepped up their battle against those who fancy a tipple.
Last week saw the latest fatal attack in the town of Khasavyurt in Dagestan, near the border with Chechnya, where a bomb ripped through an alcohol-serving cafe, killing four.
State-run media showed pictures of the wrecked cafe, with only its torched sign, "Karavan", meaning "Caravan", remaining.
Islamist rebels later said in a statement that "the owners were repeatedly warned but they were arrogant".
"It is only a matter of time before places involved in the filth of alcohol... will meet their destruction," they said on the insurgency-affiliated website jamaatshariat.com.
An Islamist insurgency fuelled by two post-Soviet separatist wars in Chechnya is gaining strength in Russia's southern flank where rebels stage near-daily attacks.
Authorities blamed insurgents for a suicide bombing that killed 35 people at Russia's busiest international airport this month. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack (...)(...more)