Three Russian journalists were killed in Central African Republic (CAR) their news outlet said, in what local authorities said was an ambush by unidentified assailants.
Russian online news organisation Investigation Control Centre (TsUR) said in a Facebook post the three journalists — identified as Orhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev and Kirill Radchenko — were on assignment.
Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed in a statement three people with identification documents belonging to Dzhemal, Rastorguyev and Radchenko were found dead and their bodies brought back to Bangui.
TsUR said the journalists were investigating activities of the so-called Wagner group, an organisation of private military contractors which, people with ties to the group told Reuters, carried out clandestine combat missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in eastern Ukraine and Syria.
Local and international media report Wagner operates in the country since Russia delivered light arms to the country’s security forces this year and deployed hundreds of military and civilian instructors to train them.
Reuters has been unable to verify the reports. Russian authorities deny the Wagner group’s contractors are carrying out their orders.
Henri Depele, the mayor of Sibut, said the journalists were killed at around 10 pm on Monday. Their driver survived the attack.
“According to the driver, when they were 23km from Sibut armed men emerged from the bush and opened fire. The journalists died instantly,” he said.
TsUR’s statement said the journalists flew into Central African Republic last Friday and its last contact with them was on Sunday evening.
The organisation is financed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Russian oil tycoon jailed on corruption charges and now lives outside Russia. He is a vehement critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
TsUR published a number of investigations alleging corruption by senior members of Putin’s entourage.
Central African Republic has been ravaged by violence, often fought along religious lines between predominantly Christian and Muslim militia, since a 2013 rebellion overthrew then-President Francois Bozize.
Most of the country is beyond control of the Bangui government and a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission struggles to keep a lid on violence.