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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Novaya Gazeta Journalist Attacked

A journalist from the Novaya Gazeta newspaper who was beaten unconscious remained in serious condition Monday after what his colleagues believe could have been a case of mistaken identity.

Igor Domnikov, 41, who writes on social and cultural issues, was attacked late Friday in the entryway of his apartment building in southeastern Moscow. The unidentified assailant repeatedly hit him on the head with a heavy object, presumably a hammer, and left him lying unconscious in a pool of blood until he was found by a neighbor, NTV television reported.

Domnikov was taken to a hospital with injuries to the skull and brain and underwent surgery before being transferred Saturday to the Burdenko Neurosurgery Institute in central Moscow. After a second operation there, he remained in grave condition Monday, a hospital official said.

According to NTV, police who arrived at the scene could not immediately identify the victim. When questioning the building's residents, detectives came to Domnikov's apartment, but the journalist's wife, Margarita, did not recognize her husband on the basis of the description police provided.

"Then something hit me. I ran down to get some details. I brought photos and said that it was Igor," she told NTV.

Local police in charge of the investigation could not be reached for comment Monday.

Domnikov's colleagues at the twice-weekly Novaya Gazeta, which is known for its investigative probes and expos?s, said they believe the real target of the attack was a fellow reporter, Oleg Sultanov, who worked to expose corruption in the oil industry and claimed to have received threats before. Domnikov, they contend, was attacked by mistake as both journalists live in the same building, they resemble each other and even dress similarly.

"We think that Igor [Domnikov] was mistaken for Oleg [Sultanov]," said Yury Shchekochikhin, the newspaper's deputy editor and a State Duma deputy.

Sultanov was one of several reporters writing a series of stories claiming instances of corruption at LUKoil, the country's biggest oil company. In January, Sultanov said that he received a call at home from an old acquaintance, a Federal Security Service officer, who told him he had a choice: accept some money, a new apartment and a job at LUKoil or face the possibility of being the target of a contract hit.

In a front-page article, the newspaper then accused LUKoil of threatening to kill Sultanov, an allegation LUKoil officials vehemently denied.

Shchekochikhin suggested Monday that Sultanov's life could be in danger.

"We are now working to arrange security for Oleg," he said, adding that the Interior Ministry has agreed to provide security for him.

Shchekochikhin also said the investigation of the attack on Domnikov was under the personal control of Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Kozlov.

Novaya Gazeta spokeswoman Yelena Radnikova said police are likewise looking into other versions of motives for the crime, including robbery and an attempt to put pressure on the newspaper.

"Investigative reporting was not his specialty," said Radnikova. "It's unlikely that he was attacked because of what he was doing."

Police detectives came to Novaya Gazeta's offices and confiscated documents belonging to Domnikov in order to establish whether publications that he was working on could have become a threat to his life, NTV reported.

The attack on Domnikov came amid international concern over the fate of the free press after the offices of Media-MOST, which controls NTV and several other independent media outlets, were raided by police last Thursday. The controversial incident aroused protests from journalists, politicians and other public figures.

On Saturday, Novaya Gazeta's editor in chief Dmitry Muratov told NTV that if law enforcement agencies fail to find the attackers, the paper will launch its own investigation.

The attack on Domnikov is the latest in a series of incidents involving Novaya Gazeta. In March, a whole issue of the newspaper was destroyed when someone broke into its computer network and erased all of the laid-out pages just two hours before the newspaper should have gone to print. And late last month, the Press Ministry issued an official warning to Novaya Gazeta for printing an interview with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov.