Activist Gunned Down In Caucasus Region, Russian Media Says

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- An opposition leader in Russia's Caucasus region was gunned down Sunday morning, state-run media reported, marking yet another activist's death in the troubled area.

Maksharip Aushev was killed while in his black car on Caucasus highway in Kabardino-Balkaria on his way to Nalchik, reported the state-run news agency ITAR-TASS. At about 9:40 a.m., attackers armed with a Kalashnikov submachine gun shot at his vehicle. Aushev died at the scene; a passenger was taken to a hospital for treatment, the agency reported.

Aushev, a human rights activist, was also an opposition leader in Ingushetia, the news agency reported. Ingushetia is a small Russian republic bordering Chechnya in the North Caucasus, just north of Georgia. An impoverished province of mostly Muslims, Ingushetia has suffered for almost a decade from overflowing unrest in neighboring Chechnya.

The businessman had organized protests in Ingushetia, one in 2007 to urge the release of his son and nephew from kidnappers, according to a 2008 report on the province by the organization Human Rights Watch. Authorities told the rights group that kidnappers eyed his family because of his business dealings in Chechnya. But Aushev told the group that he was told "high-level Ingush authorities" paid for his family's abduction.

Aushev's death follows that of several other activists in the region.

Human rights activist Natalya Estemirova, was killed in July after being abducted from her home in Chechnya, according to authorities. Estemirova, 50, was a leading human rights activist in the North Caucasus area who had been openly criticizing Chechnya's authoritarian president, Ramzan Kadyrov, and his methods.

The activist told CNN in 2007 she was investigating dozens of abductions and murders that had become the norm in Chechnya, where security forces were fighting a dirty war against separatist rebels.

A friend of Estemirova, Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was a fierce critic of the Kremlin. Police said she was found shot dead in her apartment building in October 2006. At the time of her death, she was working on a series of reports about Chechnya for the independent, Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Journalist Magomed Yevloyev was shot and killed in August 2008. He owned a Web site that frequently took to task local leaders in Ingushetia. Three days later, authorities said Abdulla Alishayev -- a host on one of the most popular Islamic television stations in the Russian republic of Dagestan -- was shot in the head and shoulder late while he was in his car.

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