Russian newsreader shot dead in Caucasus republic

A prominent television journalist in Russia‘s troubled south has been shot dead in the latest attack against the country’s media.

Kazbek Gekkiyev, 28, was a newsreader at a local state-controlled TV channel in Kabardino-Balkaria, a republic in the volatile Caucasus region, which also includes Chechnya and Dagestan.

He was shot dead on Wednesday evening as he returned home from filming the evening newscast in the capital Nalchik, local officials said. Witnesses said two men approached the journalist and asked him to confirm his name and profession. After confirming his identity, one of them shot him dead.

Hours later, a homemade bomb exploded near the car of the republic’s deputy transport minister, Vladislav Dyadchenko, who was taken to hospital with injuries. Investigators have not said whether the attacks are linked.

Kabardino-Balkaria, home to Mount Elbrus, Russia’s highest peak, has seen a spike in violence as security forces battle Islamist militants. Last year, three tourists from Moscow were killed after their van was attacked by suspected militants.

Attacks in the region have prompted particular concern as Russia gets ready to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi.

Russia’s investigative committee said it saw the attack on Gekkiyev as a warning to others. “This audacious crime can be seen as a threat to other journalists who cover operations against the bandits acting on the republic’s territory,” it said in a statement.

A video threatening employees at the television station was posted online earlier this year although Gekkiyev was not named, RIA-Novosti, a state-run news agency, reported. It said several employees had been taken off the air as a safety measure, and Gekkiyev replaced one of them as a presenter.

Gekkiyev’s colleagues said they were baffled by his death. “He didn’t carry out investigations, didn’t gather material on criminal themes,” Zhanna Gulyaeva, a colleague, told Izvestiya, a Russian newspaper. “We have guys that put together rather sharp material, go on special operations, do standups and live broadcasts. We have no idea why this happened to Kazbek.”

Kabardino-Balkaria has been seen as a relatively quiet republic in a region plagued by militant violence and an overzealous security services. Violence in the republic reached its zenith in 2005 when hundreds of militants staged simultaneous attacks on government sites throughout Nalchik and dozens were killed. More than 50 people are currently on trial for the raid. The trial has been ongoing since 2007. Many defendants have complained of torture.

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