Russia shocked by mysterious murder of three journalists in Central African Republic

The three men had been on assignment, investigating reports of Russian mercenaries fighting in Central African Republic, when their vehicle came under attack and they were shot dead.

News of the ambush has led to tributes to the trio, but many questions remain about the circumstances behind their deaths, as Elizaveta Fokht and Sergey Goryashko explain.

What happened?

Renowned war correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal, documentary filmmaker Alexander Rastorguyev, and cameraman Kirill Radchenko were attacked at 19:00 on Monday as they travelled from the CAR capital Bangui to the town of Sibut, some 180km (112 miles) north, local officials say.

They had been travelling at night despite warnings that it was not safe.

Their mission was to look into reports that fighters from a Russian private military company (PMC), the Wagner Group, were operating there.Wagner PMC has hit the headlines before for its activities in Syria. More recent reports have emerged that the group may have also deployed to CAR.

Russian officials and the Kremlin deny any ties with the fighters. However, Russia did send 180 trainers to Bangui in February, after receiving UN approval to train and arm the CAR military.Dzhemal, Rastorguyev and Radchenko had been sent to CAR by the Investigation Control Center (ICC), an investigative journalism project sponsored by exiled former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. All three were employed on a freelance basis.

According to the ICC, the journalists had already visited the Berengo military base outside the capital where the CAR military is being trained by Russian instructors.

Their next destination was the central town of Bambari, where they had arranged a meeting with a UN worker, the ICC says. “He was going to provide information about the situation with Russian military trainers in CAR and he was going to help with the filming of gold mines at Ndassima.”

Russia said this year it was interested in developing CAR’s natural resources.

The three were ambushed by men, all wearing turbans and speaking Arabic, according to Marcelin Yoyo from the Sibut local administration.

A government spokesman said that nine men in headscarves had stopped the journalists at a roadblock. They had then been shot and one had died on the spot while the others died later of their wounds.

Their driver somehow managed to escape and raise the alarm.