MOSCOW (AP) – A journalist who chronicled Russian military abuses against civilians in Chechnya, garnering awards and accolades from around the world, was found shot to death Saturday in her apartment building. Prosecutors suspect her killing could be connected to her investigative reporting.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was found dead in an elevator in the building in central Moscow, police, prosecutors and a colleague said.

Prosecutors have opened a murder investigation, said Svetlana Petrenko, spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor’s office. Investigators suspect the killing could be linked to her work, Vyacheslav Rosinsky, Moscow’s first deputy prosecutor, said on state-run Rossiya television.

Rosinsky said a pistol and bullets were found at the site of the crime. The RIA-Novosti news agency, citing police officials, reported that Politkovskaya was shot twice, the second time in the head.

The ITAR-Tass news agency reported that work was under way on a composite sketch of the attacker based on footage recorded by a security camera at the building. The assailant, believed to have acted alone, wore black.

Politkovskaya, who wrote for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, chronicled the killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen in Chechnya in reports that put her on a collision course with the authorities but won her numerous international awards.

“People sometimes pay with their lives for saying out loud what they think. People can even get killed just for giving me information,” Reporters Without Borders quoted her as saying at a press freedom conference in Vienna in December.

She also wrote a book critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military campaign in Chechnya, documenting widespread abuse of civilians by government troops.

And she was a persistent critic of Chechnya’s Moscow-backed Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, accusing his security forces of kidnapping and torturing civilians.

In “Putin’s Russia,” Politkovskaya wrote of more than a million soldiers and officers who have passed through the Chechnya experience.

“Poisoned by a war on their own territory, they have become a serious factor affecting civilian life. They can no longer simply be left out of the social equation,” she wrote.

Politkovskaya began reporting on Chechnya in 1999 during Russia’s second military campaign there, concentrating less on military engagements than on the human side of the war. She wrote about the Chechen inhabitants of refugee camps and wounded Russian soldiers – until she was banned from visiting the hospitals, said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

“Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya,” he said.

Politkovskaya had frequently received threats, Panfilov said. A few months ago, unknown assailants had tried unsuccessfully to break into a car her daughter, Vera, was driving, he said.

In 2001, she fled to Vienna, Austria, for several months after receiving e-mail threats alleging that a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians was intent on revenge. The officer, Sergei Lapin, was detained in 2002 but the case against him was closed the following year.

“There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya,” Panfilov said, referring to Politkovskaya by her nickname.

In 2004, she fell seriously ill with symptoms of food poisoning after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia during the school hostage crisis in Beslan. Her colleagues suspected the incident was an attempt on her life.

She was one of the few people to enter the Moscow theater where Chechen militants seized hundreds of hostages in October 2002 to try negotiating with the rebels. She later devoted much of her investigative reporting to that crisis, in which 129 victims died, the overwhelming majority succumbing to the gas used by special forces to knock out the hostage-takers.

“Anna was a hero to so many of us, and we’ll miss her personally, but we’ll also miss the information that she and only she was brave enough and dedicated enough to dig out and make public,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The 46-nation Council of Europe, a leading human rights watchdog whose executive body is currently led by Russia, called for her death to be investigated quickly and convincingly.

“We have all lost a strong voice of the kind which is indispensable in any genuine democracy,” said the council’s secretary general, Terry Davis.

Politkovskaya’s murder is the highest-profile killing of a journalist in Russia since the July 2004 slaying of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine.

Russia has become one of the deadliest countries for journalists. Twenty-three journalists were killed in Russia between 1996 and 2005, many in Chechnya, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 12 have been murdered in contract-style killings since Putin came to power, Simon said.

“None of those have been adequately investigated,” he said. “We do know that record creates an environment where those who might seek to carry out this murder would feel that there would be few likely consequences.”

In addition to her daughter, Politkovskaya is survived by a son, Ilya, Panfilov said.

During her career, Politkovskaya received more than 10 awards and prizes, including an award for human rights reporting from the London-based Amnesty International; a freedom of speech award from the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders; and a journalism and democracy award from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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