Russia says journalist's killer is in Western Europe

MOSCOW Tue Jul 1, 2008 1:09pm BST

A man holds a portrait of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in this file picture, during a rally in central Moscow October 8, 2006. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

A man holds a portrait of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in this file picture, during a rally in central Moscow October 8, 2006.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Natruskin

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The man suspected of killing Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 is hiding in Western Europe, Russia's chief criminal investigator was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

Politkovskaya, 48, a critic of the Kremlin who faced intimidation for her reporting on human rights abuses in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus region, was shot on October 7, 2006, outside her Moscow apartment.

Her murder was one of the highest profile killings of former President Vladimir Putin's eight-year rule and highlighted the dangers to reporters of working in Russia. The authorities have yet to put anyone on trial for the killing.

"According to our information, the murderer is hiding in Western Europe," Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Prosecutor-General's investigation unit, was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

"We even know which country he is in," he said, without identifying the country.

Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio station, citing unnamed sources, said Moscow had submitted a request to Belgium for the suspect's extradition.

A spokesman for the investigation unit declined to immediately comment on the report. The justice ministry in Belgium said it was checking the report.

Prosecutors have previously identified the suspected killer as Rustam Makhmudov, who Russian media has reported was on the run abroad.

Prosecutors last month announced they had completed their investigation into the murder and had charged three men with involvement.

The three men in detention, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Ibragim Makhmudov and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, are expected to go on trial soon. Russian media say Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov are related to Rustam Makhmudov.

Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika said last August the murder was ordered from abroad by enemies of Russia who sought to discredit Putin, who is now prime minsiter, and undermine political stability.

Chaika said then that an organised criminal group, led by an ethnic Chechen and including at least five serving and former Russian law enforcement officers, had carried out the murder.

Politkovskaya, a mother of two, documented human rights abuses by Russian security forces in Chechnya and other parts of the North Caucasus.

(Additional reporting by Brussels newsroom, Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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