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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mayor of North Ossetia Capital Shot Dead

The mayor of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, was gunned down in an apparent sniper attack Wednesday morning, just weeks after a female suicide bomber blew herself up in the southern city.

Vladikavkaz Mayor Vitaly Karayev was getting into his Mercedes near his home at about 9 a.m. when a single bullet pierced the passenger side door and struck him in the heart, regional Investigative Committee official Chermen Zangiyev said.

Karayev was rushed to the hospital, where he subsequently died later Wednesday morning, Zangiyev said, RIA-Novosti reported.

Karayev, 46, became the first mayor of a regional capital to be assassinated and the most senior official to be slain in the volatile North Caucasus in recent years.

President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday ordered law enforcement authorities to do everything possible to solve the crime, the Kremlin said in a statement.

After a female suicide bomber blew herself up in Vladikavkaz on Nov. 6, killing 12 people, Medvedev urged security forces to remain vigilant in the face of terrorism.

The suicide attack was the first terrorist attack targeting civilians since Medvedev assumed the presidency in May and the first to involve a female suicide bomber since the 2004 school attack in Beslan, also in North Ossetia.

Karayev was accompanied by four bodyguards at the time of Wednesday's attack, none of whom saw the gunman, Zangiyev told RIA-Novosti. Investigators have yet to establish the type of weapon used in the slaying, he said.

Police were combing the areas surrounding the crime scene looking for the used cartridge and any other traces left by the gunman, but no reports of uncovered evidence were made public as of Wednesday evening.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement that it had formally opened a murder investigation.

North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov said he had no idea why Karayev was targeted. "The man just began working in his post," Mamsurov said, Interfax reported.

The Vladikavkaz City Council elected Karayev as mayor in February. He had previously served as the city's deputy mayor.

Experts on the North Caucasus said Wednesday that Karayev's murder was likely linked to a business dispute rather than politics.

"Karayev was not actively involved in Ossetian politics," said Sergei Markedonov, a Caucasus analyst with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.

The mainly Christian republic has been plagued by violence in recent years connected to a bitter territorial conflict with neighboring Ingushetia. It is also home to refugees who fled the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia during Russia's war with Georgia in August over the rebel region.

Karayev's deputy mayor, Mairam Tamayev, was wounded in a car bombing in October.

Markedonov and Maxim Agarkov of the SK-Strategia think tank said Karayev's control over the local budget and property distribution could have spawned powerful enemies and rivals.

"Hiring a hit man in the Caucasus is a cheap and readily available option to settle scores," said Agarkov, a former officer with the Interior Ministry's anti-terrorism department.

While Karayev was the first mayor of a regional capital to be assassinated, other mayors have been targeted in attacks as well, particularly in southern Russia.

Said Amirov, mayor of the Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala, has survived 15 attempts on his life.

Karayev is survived by his wife and three children.