MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian forces killed the leader of one of the rebel groups fighting to carve an Islamist state out of the North Caucasus and two other militants on Thursday, news agencies said, quoting Russia's anti-terrorism committee.

One law enforcement officer was killed and another wounded in a gunfight with the militants in the Vedeno district, one of the regions hardest hit by two separatist wars in Chechnya after the Soviet collapse, they said, quoting the committee known by its Russian initials NAK. The dead leader, Adam Khushalayev, who had adopted the name Abu-Malik, had been a wanted man for over a decade.

 and had taken over as head of a rebel group after its leaders were killed in January, NAK said.

The leaders before him, the brothers Khuseyn and Muslim Gakayev, had been blamed for organizing several high-profile attacks, most recently a suicide bombing that killed four interior ministry soldiers last August, according to NAK.

More than a decade after President Vladimir Putin's government restored control over Chechnya, Islamist insurgents still stage frequent attacks in the region.

The epicenter of violence has spread from Chechnya in recent years to Russia's other mainly Muslim provinces of Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Next year's Olympics in Sochi to take place nearby are a sworn target of the umbrella Caucasus Emirate group, which has staged bloody attacks in the Russian heartland.

It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow's busiest airport in 2011 that killed 37 people and twin bombings of Moscow's metro system in 2010 that killed 40 people.