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Russia's 'voice of truth' is silenced with 14 bullets

Newspaper editor was on hitlist of people accused of sympathising with Islamist rebels

In a brazen attack that again highlights the danger many Russian journalists face for attempting to report the truth, the founder of an independent newspaper was shot dead in what appears to have been an ordered killing.

An assailant shot Khadzhimurad Kamalov 14 times late on Thursday night as he left the offices of Chernovik, the newspaper he founded and one of the few independent media voices in the troubled southern republic of Dagestan. The killer fled in a Lada, and Mr Kamalov died on the way to hospital.

He is the latest in a long line of journalists to be killed in Russia, in crimes that are rarely solved. Working in the North Caucasus region, where the Kremlin is battling an Islamist insurgency, is particularly dangerous. Chernovik and its journalists have received many threats, and the newspaper was also taken to court after it quoted an Islamic militant, in a case that it won.

Mr Kamalov's name was included in a sinister "hitlist", distributed on flyers two years ago, of people who sympathised with Islamic rebels and should be assassinated.

A year ago, he painted a grim picture of Dagestan in an interview with The Independent. He estimated that about 25 per cent of the local population support Islamic terrorism, as long as it is aimed at officials rather than civilians.

"People look at the way that the police and the FSB behave, and it's easy to understand why a lot of them feel their sympathies are with the other side," he said. Mr Kamalov spoke for several hours in a café in Makhachkala, the scruffy capital of Dagestan. He came across as a uniquely well-informed and nuanced man. He was one of the few who was not scared to talk openly about his views. Such frankness is rare in a region where killings occur every day.

People who display sympathy for the insurgents risk getting on to the radar of the Kremlin-loyal security forces in the region. It was not clear who was behind Mr Kamalov's killing, but colleagues immediately said they were certain it was linked to his work at Chernovik.

"There is no doubt that this is a political killing," said the respected Russian rights organisation Memorial. "The people behind this crime wanted to deal a blow to freedom of speech in Dagestan". Mr Kamalov was the "soul" of the paper, which had remained the "voice of truth" for many years, it said.

Hundreds of mourners attended his funeral in Makhachkala yesterday.

Russian Roulette: Other Targets

Paul Klebnikov

The Russian editor of Forbes magazine had investigated the country's underworld and wrote a book about the tycoon Boris Berezovsky. whom he dubbed the "Godfather of the Kremlin". He was assassinated in July 2004 – shot nine times from a passing car.

Anna Politkovskaya

The 48-year-old journalist for Novaya Gazeta – an outspoken critic of then-President Vladimir Putin – reported extensively on Chechnya. She was gunned down outside a lift at her block of flats in October 2006 in a case that turned the spotlight on the targeted killings of journalists.