Russian investigators continue to probe the brazen daylight killing of star investigative journalist and fierce government critic Anna Politkovskaya, singling out her work as the most likely motive for the killing, news reports said.
Meanwhile, the semi-weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya had worked, voiced the same opinion in a special edition devoted to the award-winning reporter and rights activist, listing her major publications and inquiring into the cause of her killing.
Politkovskaya, who made a name for herself by chronicling human rights abuses against civilians in Chechnya, was gunned down on Saturday afternoon in the elevator of her apartment building in central Moscow in an apparent contract killing.
Her colleagues said she had been working on a story about torture and abductions in Chechnya – abuses she blamed on Moscow-backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. “I dream of seeing him tried,” she said in an interview several days before her death.
Novaya Gazeta said in a statement that the killing was either revenge by Kadyrov or an attempt to discredit him.
The Kommersant daily cited unnamed investigators as saying that the murder could have been masterminded by Kadyrov’s rivals. The killing could weaken Kadyrov and his entourage by triggering a wide-ranging probe in Chechnya by Moscow investigators, the paper said.
Kadyrov expressed condolences over Politkovskaya’s death, and denied any “Chechen trace” in the killing.
“It is hearsay and rumours, which don’t show either politicians or the media in a good light,” Kadyrov was quoted as saying by the Vremya Novostei daily.
The ITAR-Tass news agency, citing law enforcement officials, said investigators were also considering a “political provocation,” possibly organised abroad, as another likely motive. The possibility of a personal or business quarrel was also being investigated.
The Prosecutor General’s Office declined to comment on the investigation.
Investigators had originally said the attacker was believed to have acted alone, but Kommersant reported today he possibly had an accomplice, a woman in her thirties, who helped him follow the victim from the grocerystore. Coroners possessed a composite sketch of the killer based on footage recorded by a security camera at Politkovskaya’s apartment building and police were hunting for the suspects today.
World leaders and international organisations were quick to condemn the killing and express condolences.
“Like many Russians, Americans were shocked and saddened by the brutal murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless investigative journalist, highly respected in both Russia and the United States,” US President George Bush said yesterday. “We urge the Russian Government to conduct a vigorous and thorough investigation to bring to justice those responsible for her murder.”
Among others, the European Union, the Council of Europe rights watchdog, and Finland have also expressed their condolences and called for a far-reaching probe. Russian President Vladimir Putin has remained silent.
In Germany, where Putin heads tomorrow for a summit with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said the killers and those behind the killing must be found and punished. “Beyond that … it is the task of a government to ensure that a climate of fear in which press freedom cannot develop does not arise in a country,” he said.
Politkovskaya’s death was the most high-profile slaying of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 assassination of Paul Klebnikov, the US-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.
Politkovskaya, whom Vremya Novostei described as a member of a disappearing breed of courageous investigative reporters, will be buried in Moscow tomorrow.