Azerbaijan's Air Force Chief Shot Dead in Baku

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- A gunman fatally shot Azerbaijan's air force chief outside his home on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry said.

Azerbaijan's chief military prosecutor, speaking from the rain-soaked site of the shooting of Lieutenant General Rail Rzayev in the capital Baku, said authorities did not know the motive.

Rzayev's driver told investigators that both men were outside the general's home and the driver was throwing a bag of garbage away at the request of his boss when he heard a gunshot, prosecutor Khanlar Veliyev said. It appeared that Rzayev died of a single gunshot wound to the head, Veliyev said.

Veliyev said investigators were looking at security-camera footage from Rzazev's home and searching the area for clues but were hampered by heavy rains that fell overnight.

Rzayev, 63, was a longtime Soviet military officer who became head of Azerbaijan's air force shortly after the country gained independence in the 1991 Soviet collapse.

As air defense forces chief, he had represented Azerbaijan in talks with Russia and the United States on Moscow's 2007 proposal to make a Soviet-built radar station in Azerbaijan part of a joint missile shield to protect against a potential threat from Iran.

The Kremlin's proposal failed to persuade the U.S. administration to abandon plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russian officials contend are actually aimed to weaken their country.

Moscow uses the Gabala station as part of its early warning system. It is renting it until at least 2012 but is building a radar station in southern Russia as a potential alternative once that expires.