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Politkovskaya killer manhunt under way in Belgium

Russian detectives are in Belgium on a manhunt that could lead to the killer of celebrated Moscow journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a source close to the probe told AFP Saturday.

Russian investigators switched their attention to the eastern Belgian city of Liege last month, and after their presence emerged, sources said a race against time was under way with one warning that officers lives were “imperilled.”

Gunned down outside her Moscow flat four years ago with four bullets including one to the head, Politkovskaya remains feted as a thorn in the side of then strongman president Vladimir Putin.

Politkovskaya first made her name exposing human rights abuses during now-Prime Minister Putin’s management of the conflict in Chechnya, and Kremlin critics have long accused the Moscow regime of being involved in her execution.

A spokeswoman for the federal Belgian prosecutor’s office refused to make any comment when contacted on separate occasions by AFP on Saturday, after another source confirmed a morning newspaper revelation.

Le Soir newspaper said the killer could be in hiding in Belgium with a phone-tapping operation under way, while a national television report later said three Russian detectives were on the ground leading the pursuit.

After a high-profile Russian trial saw three people acquitted, Moscow requested assistance from Liege prosecutors last month — Brussels was said to have already been involved in the first investigation two years ago.

Politkovskaya, who repeatedly criticised Putin directly, died in the staircase of her apartment building in central Moscow on October 7, 2006.