Is this the killer of Russian journalist?
Russia's best known investigative journalist was murdered two days before she was due to publish a scathing report on torture by Russian agents in Chechnya, it emerged yesterday, as outrage spread around the world.
As messages poured in for Anna Politkovskaya, who became famous for her withering criticism of President Vladimir Putin's war in Chechnya, Russian activists struggled to assess the disturbing implications of her killing for the future of their country.
The US State Department said it was "shocked and profoundly saddened" by what appeared to be at least the 13th contract killing of a journalist since Mr Putin took power in 2000. European governments expressed similar sentiments.
But from the Kremlin there was silence. Not even speculation on websites that Politkovskaya's death was a birthday present for Mr Putin, who was 54 on Saturday, the day she was killed, could provoke a government reaction.
Among the thousand or so protesters at vigils in Moscow and St Petersburg, there was no doubt that someone in the Kremlin knew something about the reporter's death.
The words scrawled across the giant photograph of Politkovskaya in Pushkin Square, Moscow, said it all: "The Kremlin has killed freedom of speech."
A portrait of Mr Putin bore the words: "You are responsible for everything."
Politkovskaya's newspaper, the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta, which is partly owned by the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was due to run her latest Chechnyan expose.
Although she had not filed her article, the deputy chief editor, Vitaly Yaroshevsky, said it lifted the lid on torture and kidnapping of civilians by officers loyal to Chechnya's Moscow-backed prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov.
Mr Kadyrov, 30, a protégé of Mr Putin, was one of Politkovskaya's foremost enemies. She was to testify against him in a case over the kidnapping and killing of two civilians. Politkovskaya, 48, was shot twice at close range as she returned to her flat from shopping. The mother of two was found in the lift, with a 9mm Makarov pistol by her side.
CCTV showed a man, in black and with a baseball cap, hurrying from the building.
Politkovskaya made many powerful enemies in the FSB, the spy agency that succeeded the KGB, over scores of trips to Chechnya that exposed Russian brutality in the province and detailed the horrific conditions of ordinary Russian soldiers there.
She received many threats and survived an alleged attempt to poison her tea on a flight in 2004.
Her son regularly checked her car for bombs and
she knew death was a possibility. "If it happens, it happens,"
she told The Daily Telegraph this summer. Last December, she told a
conference on press freedom: "People sometimes pay with their lives
for saying out loud what they think."
But the killing of so famous a figure, two weeks after the murder of the reforming deputy head of the central bank, Andrei Kozlov, has convinced some that hard-liners in the Kremlin have begun to act with impunity as 2008 presidential elections draw closer.
"Those who killed her were absolutely convinced that it is now possible in Russia to do such things openly, without even bothering to camouflage it as an accident," said a former dissident, Sergey Grigoryants.
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