Ilyas Shurpayev

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Firefighters responding to an emergency call found Shurpayev, 32, dead in his rented Moscow apartment; he had been stabbed and strangled. The perpetrators had apparently set the residence on fire to cover their tracks, Channel One reported.

The prosecutor general’s office opened a murder investigation. According to initial press reports, authorities ruled out robbery as a motive because Shurpayev’s valuables, including his laptop, had not been taken. Investigators initially said they were looking at Shurpayev’s journalism as a possible motive, along with unspecified private matters, Channel One reported on March 21. Channel One representatives declined to comment when contacted by CPJ.

According to local press reports, Shurpayev had moved to Moscow in February from his native Dagestan in Russia‘s volatile North Caucasus region, where he worked as a local correspondent for Channel One. Prior to joining Channel One, Shurpayev worked for the state-controlled NTV channel.

Hours before his death, Shurpayev wrote in his personal blog that the owners of a newspaper in Dagestan–later identified in the local press as Nastoyashcheye Vremya (The Real Time)–had refused to publish a column Shurpayev had written and had instructed staff to not mention his name in publications. “Now I am a dissident!” was the blog entry’s title.

According to the independent news Web site Lenta, Shurpayev called his building’s concierge around 2 a.m. on March 21, asking that two male visitors be admitted. Shortly after, Shurpayev’s neighbors summoned firefighters when they saw smoke coming from the apartment. His body was discovered with stab wounds and a belt around his neck.

A week after his death, several Russian newspapers reported that up to 100,000 Russian rubles (about US$3,570) was missing from Shurpayev’s apartment. Subsequent reports gave conflicting amounts; the independent business daily Kommersant said on March 31 that the missing sum was 1 million rubles (US$35,700) and that it represented the journalist’s savings for an apartment purchase. Prosecutors were looking at robbery as the leading motive, Channel One reported on March 31. Shurpayev’s friends and relatives disputed reports about the money, saying the journalist never kept large sums in his apartment, the independent news Web site Lenta reported.

On March 27, the news agency Interfax reported that a security camera in Shurpayev’s apartment building had captured images of two men in their 20s. According to Interfax, investigators traced one man’s mobile phone to Dushanbe, Tajikistan‘s capital. Four days later, according to local and international news reports, authorities had identified three Tajik men as suspects and had detained them in Tajikistan.