Police say a prominent Russian activist who investigated human rights abuses in Chechnya has been found dead in the neighboring region of Ingushetia.
Ingush Interior Ministry spokeswoman Madina Khadziyeva said Natalya Estemirova's body was found with two close-range bullet wounds in her head not far from Ingushetia's main city, Nazran, on Wednesday afternoon.
The chairman of the Memorial human rights group, Oleg Orlov, said four men had forced Estemirova into a car outside her home in the Chechen capital, Grozny, nine hours earlier. He said witnesses heard her yell that she was being abducted.
Orlov said he suspected that unspecified Russian security agencies were involved, adding that Chechen authorities were highly critical of Estemirova's work, which saw her collect evidence of kidnappings, torture and killings in the region over the past decade.
New-York based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Estemirova had been working on "extremely sensitive" cases of human rights abuses in Chechnya.
"There is no shred of doubt that she was targeted due to her professional activity," Tanya Lokshina, HRW's Russian researcher in Moscow told Reuters news agency.
Estemirova's work with Memorial helped the organisation build an international reputation for uncovering of rights abuses and distortions of history in Russia.
In 2007 Estemirova was awarded the Anna Politkovskaya prize -named after the investigative journalist who was murdered in her Moscow apartment block in 2006 - by the Nobel Women's Initiative, a group established by female Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
Editor: Neil King