Russian Journalist Killed

MOSCOW (AP) -- A television journalist was found dead in a Moscow apartment Friday with a belt around his neck and numerous stab wounds - a grisly murder that reinforces Russia's image as one of the most dangerous countries for reporters.

Hours after the body was discovered, an executive in charge of the provincial state TV station in the victim's home region in southern Russia was shot to death by unidentified men, and police were looking for links between the two killings.

More than a dozen journalists have been slain in contract-style killings and others have been beaten since 2000. Many appear to have been targeted because of their attempts to dig into allegations of corruption.

Charges have rarely been filed, including in the 2006 slaying in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative reporter who won acclaim for her reporting of atrocities against civilians in war-scarred Chechnya.

However, it seemed unlikely the killing of Channel One journalist Ilyas Shurpayev was linked to his reporting since he worked for a station controlled by the Kremlin.

The Russian Interior Ministry branch in Dagestan said Shurpayev's slaying could be linked to the killing later in the day of Gadzhi Abashilov, chief of the state-controlled regional TV company based in Makhachkala, Dagestan. The office wouldn't comment on possible motives.

Shurpayev's station said the 32-year-old reporter moved to Moscow last month from Dagestan, a part of the North Caucasus region that sees frequent violence, some linked to Islamic militants and some rooted in clan feuds and crime. Hate attacks on ethnic minorities from the Caucasus and former Soviet Central Asia also are common in Moscow.

State-run Vesti-24 television cited a concierge in Shurpayev's building as saying the journalist had called down from his apartment early Friday to ask her to let in two young men. The men apparently looked like natives of the North Caucasus, the report said.

Firefighters later found Shurpayev's body in his rented studio apartment after a fire apparently was set after the slaying, Channel One spokeswoman Larisa Krymova said.

The Investigative Committee, the branch of the prosecutor's office that announced the murder investigation, said nothing about a possible motive for Shurpayev's killing. Krymova also declined comment on that aspect of the case.

"We are shocked and saddened by Shurpayev's murder," Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media freedom watchdog, said in a statement released before Abashilov's killing was announced.

"We urge the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and to consider all hypotheses, including the possibility that it was linked to his work as a journalist, which is such a risky profession in Russia," the reporters group said.

Critics say Russia has witnessed a steady rollback of post-Soviet media and political freedoms during President Vladimir Putin's eight-year presidency. Top independent television stations have been shut down and print media have also experienced growing official pressure.

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