MOSCOW -- A prominent lawyer representing the family of a Chechen girl killed by a Russian Army officer has been shot dead in Moscow.
Prosecutors say the body of Stanislav Markelov was found on a central street in the Russian capital just moments after he spoke to reporters about the case.
Law enforcement officials were quoted as saying an assailant carrying a gun with a silencer shot Markelov in the back of the head at point-blank range as he walked along Moscow's central Prechistenka Street.
A woman walking with Markelov was also shot after she tried to intervene. She later died in hospital. She was identified as Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist working with Russia's opposition "Novaya gazeta" newspaper.
No suspects have been apprehended. Prosecutors said a murder investigation had been launched.
Svetlana Gannushkina of Russia's Memorial human rights center told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Markelov's murder bore the signs of a hired killing.
"This could not have been accidental, and there was certainly no criminal motive behind it," Gannushkina said. "Unfortunately, we cannot conduct our own investigation. We can only demand that the law enforcement bodies do it. But our capabilities, our mechanisms, so to speak, of making such demands are unfortunately very, very weak. All we can do is express our indignation and try to find out who threatened Stanislav, when, why, and how."Reach Of The Law?
The brazen midafternoon attack took place just minutes after Markelov had spoken to journalists about his work on one of the most notorious cases to emerge from Russia's wars in Chechnya.
Colonel Yury Budanov was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Elza Kungayeva, an 18-year-old Chechen girl, was brutally murdered in 2000 in what her father said was a drunken rampage by federal troops based in the North Caucasus republic as part of Moscow's antiseparatist campaign.
Markelov helped secure a ruling three years later, when a Russian officer, Colonel Yury Budanov, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case came at a time when Russian soldiers were often thought to be beyond the reach of the law for their actions in Chechnya.
But old wounds were reopened last month, when a court granted Budanov an early release, 18 months before his sentence was due to end. The decision sparked angry rallies in Chechnya and even prompted protests from the republic's pro-Moscow administration.
Markelov had led legal attempts to block the ruling, without success. Budanov was released on January 15.
At a press conference just moments before his slaying, the 34-year-old lawyer said he would push for an appeal, and accused officials in the Dmitrovgrad city court responsible for Budanov's release of acting erratically in the case.
"You know, when someone changes his position several times a day, one questions his sanity. In this case it's a court that changes its position and I can't question the court's sanity," Markelov said.
"But I can question the way it makes decisions, or perhaps only voices decisions, especially when they make statements -- not only to me, but also to journalists -- that they don't know that their ruling has been carried out and that Budanov is already free."'Killed In Broad Daylight'
People close to Markelov said he had complained of receiving death threats in recent days.
Budanov's parole sparked protests in Grozny.
Visa Kungayev, the father of Elza Kungayeva, said Markelov had received text messages warning him that he would be killed if he didn't stop his work on the Budanov case.
Markelov had intended to file a protest this week in the Supreme Court against Budanov's release. Rights-watchers in Chechnya had also suggested the case be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Kungayev -- who now lives in Norway with this four remaining children -- said he believed Budanov was behind the slaying.
"We, the whole family, are shocked and speechless. There is no doubt that my lawyer was killed by Budanov and his gang. I feel sorry for this professional [lawyer]. A person is killed in broad daylight in Moscow and the criminal escapes," Kungayev said.
"Budanov and his gang are behind it. [Markelov] told me last Thursday he was being threatened with death if he didn't drop Budanov's case," he adds. "As soon as the murderer [Budanov] got out of prison, they killed this man, this professional [Markelov]."
Contract-style killings remain depressingly familiar in Russia and have even reached beyond its borders.
Markelov's murder comes less than a week after Umar Israilov, a former bodyguard of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was shot dead in Vienna on January 13.
Supporters claim Israilov's killing was linked to a lawsuit he had filed against Russia with the Strasbourg court, accusing Kadyrov of participating in abductions and torture. He claimed that Kadyrov had personally tortured him with electric shocks.
In 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a "Novaya gazeta" journalist whose critical reporting took aim at both the Kremlin and Kadyrov, was shot dead in the entryway of her Moscow apartment building. RFE/RL's Russian and North Caucasus services contributed to this report. With news agency reports