MOSCOW – A suspect in the killing of a human rights lawyer and a journalist has confessed to the crime, his lawyer said Friday.
A Moscow court on Thursday approved the arrest of a man and a woman suspected in January's killing of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, which caused an international outcry.
The male suspect, Nikita Tikhonov, confessed to the crime after his arrest, his lawyer Yevgeny Skripelev said on Ekho Moskvy radio Friday.
The director of Russia's KGB successor agency said Thursday while briefing President Dmitry Medvedev on the arrests that the suspects were members of an extreme nationalist group, but didn't name it.
Skripelev said that Tikhonov had personal motives for shooting Markelov and said he was unaware of his client's link to any nationalist organization.
"There were no ideological differences behind it, just a personal grudge," Skripelev said.
Some Russian rights activists and the media said that Tikhonov was a member of a neo-Nazi group and previously had been searched by police on suspicion of being involved in a 2006 killing of a campaigner against hate crimes.
Markelov, 34, a prominent lawyer whose work had angered nationalists, and Baburova, 25, a journalist accompanying him, were shot after leaving a news conference in downtown Moscow in a brazen daytime attack by a lone gunman wearing a stocking-style mask.
Skripelev said that Tikhonov didn't want to shoot Baburova and regrets her death.
"He said he had no intention to kill her," Skripelev said. He refused to elaborate.
Maria Rozalskaya, a researcher for SOVA Center, a hate crimes watchdog, said Markelov was a lawyer for the family of an anti-hate crime campaigner who was killed by neo-Nazis in 2006. A 2007 trial ended up in the conviction of several assailants. Tikhonov was among the suspects, but he escaped arrest and went into hiding, officials said.
Alexander Belov, the leader of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Migration, said he knew Tikhonov as a journalist and doubts official accusations.
"I doubt the man I worked with is the killer," Belov told the AP. "He was a correct, upstanding and talented journalist."
Russia has seen a string of contract-style killings of human rights workers and journalists in recent years. Few of the killings are ever solved. In the rare case when people suspected of taking part in a killing are brought to trial, the mastermind is rarely identified.