One of Britain's leading jounalist, David Holden of the Sunday Times, has been found shot dead in the desert near Cairo airport, police said today.

Holden, 53, was chief foreign correspondent of the London Sunday newspaper.

Cairo police said his body was found at the edge of the desert near a Cairo suburb at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. An autopsy showed that he had died, shot in the back, about three hours earlier, police said.

The Sunday Times had ealier reported in London that Holden was missing on a Middle East tour. Cairo police reported that Holden flew to the Egyptian capital from Amman late Tuesday.

In London, a Sunday Times spokesman quoted Cairo police as saying that, while robbery appeared to be the motive, other possibilities including political motives were being investigated.

Holden's body was found without any identification papers, luggage or money except for a few Jordanian coins. the police said. They reported that the body had lain unidentified in a mortuary since Wednesday.

He was finally identified by the British Embassy, the police said.

Holden, a veteran of Middle East reporting for more than 20 years, knew Cairo well.

The police said that such a seasoned visitor was unlikely to have lost his way traveling the 10 miles from the airport to the city center.

Cairo authorities maintain a security check on all arriving visitors heading for town by taking the numbers of their taxis, their destination and the time of departure.