MOSCOW (Reuters) - Police shot dead eight militants in Chechnya in southern Russia around midnight on Saturday after the men, traveling in two cars, opened fire when asked to stop at a checkpoint, the Interfax news agency reported on Sunday.


Moscow has fought two wars with separatists in Chechnya since the 1991 Soviet collapse and still faces a low-level insurgency in the mainly Muslim region in Russia's volatile North Caucasus area.


Citing the Chechen Interior Ministry, Interfax said the militants had opened fire with automatic weapons and thrown grenades at police officers who tried to stop them.


The agency quoted a law enforcement source as saying the gang had planned to carry out a series of attacks in Chechnya, which is ruled with an iron fist by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Moscow-backed president.


The armed group was led by Ali Demilkhanov, who was on a federal wanted list, Interfax reported. It said authorities had received advance intelligence about the militants and had deployed 200 men to try to intercept them.


Four policemen were injured in the shootings, Interfax reported.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)