The execution-style slaying of Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was almost alone in Russia in reporting human rights abuses during the war in Chechnya, sparked outrage in Russia and abroad yesterday.
The US and the Council of Europe joined Russian politicians, journalists and human rights activists in condemning her murder at her home in central Moscow late on Saturday.
The former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, part-owner of the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked, described her killing as "savage" and "a blow to the entire democratic, independent press," Interfax news agency reported.
Politkovskaya, 48, was shot in her apartment building as she stepped out of a lift on her way to fetch shopping bags from her car. The killer first fired in her chest, then finished her off with a shot to the head, Russian news agencies quoted police sources as saying.
Colleagues said they were sure she had been murdered in connection with her reporting. Her newspaper, the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta, revealed she had been preparing an article on torture in Chechnya for Monday's edition.
"She had several important photographs which showed all of this. This was her material. It was going to be published in Monday's issue. We have some of her notes and of course we will partly publish this material," editor in chief Dmitry Muratov said on NTV television yesterday.
Police confirmed that a leading theory was "murder in connection with the victim's social or professional duties."
She was the 42nd journalist killed in Russia since the Soviet collapse, and the 12th since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Police released security camera footage showing the chief suspect, a man wearing dark clothing and a dark baseball cap.
Investigators were examining Politkovskaya's body and a 9mm Makarov pistol found at the scene, the Moscow prosecutor's office told RIA Novosti.
Prosecutors also removed for examination two box loads of documents from her office at the bi-weekly Novaya Gazeta, as well as her computer hard-drive and diary.
Grave-faced, with large reading glasses and grey hair, Politkovskaya, the mother of two adult children, never resembled the cliched image of the war reporter.
However, she was almost the last Russian journalist still covering human rights abuses and corruption during the more than decade-old Chechen conflict.
She had received several prizes for her daring investigations, including the Russian Union of Journalists' Golden Pen Award and the Journalism and Democracy Award from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
She was also the author of several books scathingly critical of the Russian authorities, including Dirty War: A Russian reporter in Chechnya, and Putin's Russia.
There was also swift condemnation of the slaying abroad, with US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack saying the US was "shocked and profoundly saddened by the brutal murder."
"The United States urges the Russian government to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation," he said.