- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2006

MOSCOW — A Russian journalist known for her critical coverage of President Vladimir Putin and the war in Chechnya was fatally shot yesterday in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow, in a killing prosecutors thought could be connected to her investigative work.

Anna Politkovskaya was a tireless reporter who had written a critical book on Mr. Putin and his campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by troops.

Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation into her death, said Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor.

Investigators suspect the killing was connected to the work of the 48-year-old journalist, Vyacheslav Rosinsky, Moscow’s first deputy prosecutor, said on state-run Rossiya television.

Mrs. Politkovskaya’s body was found in an elevator in her Moscow apartment building, a duty officer at a police station in central Moscow told the Associated Press.

Mr. Rosinsky said a pistol and bullets were found at the site of the crime. The RIA-Novosti news agency, citing police officials, reported that Mrs. Politkovskaya was shot twice, once in the head.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said Mrs. Politkovskaya had frequently received threats. A few months ago, unknown assailants had tried unsuccessfully to break into the car her daughter Vera was driving.

In 2001, Mrs. Politkovskaya fled to Vienna, Austria, for several months after receiving e-mail threats warning that a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians was intent on revenge. The officer, Sergei Lapin, was detained in 2002 based on her charges, but the case against him was closed in 2003.

“Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya,” Mr. Panfilov said.

Mrs. Politkovskaya began reporting on Chechnya in 1999, during Russia’s second campaign there, and concentrated less on military engagements than on the human side of the war.

She wrote long, empathic stories about the Chechen inhabitants of refugee camps and Russian soldiers she found in hospitals — until she was banned from visiting those hospitals, Mr. Panfilov said.

In Washington, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack praised Mrs. Politkovskaya as a “highly respected and tireless investigative reporter and author” who worked in the face of death threats.

Mr. McCormack said the United States extends “deepest sympathies to her family,” and he urged the Russian government to “to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation in order to find, prosecute and bring to justice all those responsible for this heinous murder.”

More than any other Russian reporter, Mrs. Politkovskaya has chronicled killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen — reports that put her on a collision course with the authorities.

“There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them,” Mr. Panfilov said. “I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya.”

Mrs. Politkovskaya fell seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia during the 2004 school hostage crisis in Beslan, where many thought she was heading to mediate the crisis. Her colleagues had suggested the incident was an attempt on her life.

She was one of the few people to have entered the Moscow theater where Chechen militants took hundreds of hostages in October 2002 and tried to negotiate with the rebels.

Mrs. Politkovskaya’s death is the highest-profile killing of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 slaying of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

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