Unknown armed assailants on July 4 abducted Astamirov, a 34-year-old correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency, in the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia, according to media reports.
Astamirov, who is married and has two children, previously worked for Chechnya’s Grozny Television. He was based in Ingushetia’s capital, Nazran, and had worked for AFP for more than a year. He reported on politically sensitive issues, primarily the conflict in Chechnya and the plight of Chechen refuges in neighboring Ingushetia.
The journalist was kidnapped while he and two colleagues, humanitarian worker Ruslan Musayev and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) stringer Aslambek Dadayev, were driving through Nazran and stopped for gas.
A white vehicle blocked the car, and three armed men in camouflage attire–two of whom were wearing masks–seized the journalists’ cell phones, pulled Astamirov out of the car, and drove off in the direction of Chechnya.
Russian law enforcement authorities launched a criminal investigation into the incident but have not reported any progress.
Astamirov’s fate remains unknown, and the abductors have not contacted the journalist’s family or AFP with demands.
According to AFP, Astamirov had received telephone threats in the months prior to his abduction and had moved to a different house because he feared for his safety. On July 24, AFP reported that a reliable source in Chechnya told the news agency that the journalist was still alive and that he was being held in Chechnya. The source provided no further details.