Gunman kills colonel who strangled Chechen girl

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A gunman on Friday shot dead Russian army colonel Yuri Budanov, who strangled to death an 18-year-old Chechen girl during the war in Chechnya in a crime that shocked Russia, investigators said.

The horrific murder in 2000 of Elza Kungayeva became a symbolic example of systematic abuses by the Russian army in the war in Chechnya, but Budanov was still regarded as a nationalist hero by extremists.

The shooting took place on Komsomolsky Prospekt in southwest Moscow at 1230 pm (0830 GMT) as Budanov was emerging from an office building, the Russian Investigative Committee said in a statement.

"An unknown individual shot him several times. Budanov died from firearms wounds at the scene," it said.

The website said that the gunman had arrived at the scene earlier in a foreign brand car with companions, and that he fired four bullets into Budanov's head.

A security source told Russian news agencies that the murder appeared to be a "contract killing". The investigators' statement said it was possible that the murder had been "carefully planned".

The motive of the crime is unclear but it came amid increased inter-ethnic tensions in Moscow after unprecedented race riots pitting Slavic extremists against Muslims from the Caucasus in December.

The spokesman for investigators, Vladimir Markin, told Russian news agencies that it was possible that the murder was intended to be a "provocation" aimed at stirring trouble.

He said it was premature to assume that ethnic-based groups could have been behind the killing.

Budanov was released from jail in January 2009 after serving only part of his 10-year sentence for the young Chechen woman's murder, a move that provoked angry protests by Russian rights activists.

Just days after his release from jail, a masked gunman killed human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov as he was emerging from a news conference protesting Budanov's return to freedom.

Anastasia Baburova, a young journalist working on opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was killed alongside Markelov in one of the most shocking killings in Russia in recent years.

Last month, a Russian court sentenced nationalist Nikita Tikhonov, 30, to life in prison for the murder of Markelov and Baburova in a rare victory for the embattled rights community.

His co-accused Yevgenia Khasis, 25, his common-law wife, received 18 years in a penal colony for complicity in the crime.

Budanov had been arrested in 2000 and in July 2003, after a lengthy trial that was widely criticised, was found guilty of kidnapping and murder. Charges of rape were dropped during the trial.

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who previously headed a nationalist-tinged political movement, vehemently denounced Budanov's killing as an attempt to provoke ethnic tensions in Russia.

Saying the investigation should focus on leads from within Chechnya, he described the crime as a "provocation against Russian society and the inter-ethnic peace which cost us so much blood."

"It is a dangerous crime full of resonance," he told Echo Moscow radio.

The head of extreme right-wing nationalist group Russians, Dmitry Demushkin, told the Interfax news agency that the murder would lead to a flare-up of nationalist tensions in Russia.

"There is no doubt that the traces of this murder lead back to Chechnya," h said.

© 2011 AFP

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