Journalist Ilyas Shurpayev, a specialist in the North Caucasus employed by state-owned Perviy Kanal (Channel One) television, was found dead early this morning in his rented Moscow apartment. He had been strangled with a belt. According to a press-release of Reporters Without Borders, forwarded to UNIAN, the police have opened a murder investigation.

"We are shocked and saddened by Shurpayev`s murder," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and to consider all hypotheses, including the possibility that it was linked to his work as a journalist, which is such a risky profession in Russia."

Shurpayev`s body was found when firemen came in response to a report by neighbours that there was a fire in the apartment, which he began renting last month. The investigators think his killers may have started the fire in an attempt to eliminate any possible clues.

It is thought that Shurpayev, 32, let his killers into the apartment. He had called the building`s concierge at 2 a.m. to ask her to allow two people, apparently of North Caucasus origin, into the building.

Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that he was killed in connection with his work. The head of the Perviy Kanal office in Dagestan, where Shurpayev used to work, said he did not know why he was murdered. "I do not understand, I spoke to him yesterday evening at 6 p.m. and everything was all right," he said.

A few hours before his death, Shurpayev posted an entry in his blog about a dispute between the management and staff of the Dagestan-based newspaper Nastoyashee Vremya. The publisher had just given the staff a list of names of people who were not to be mentioned or quoted. Shurpayev`s name was at the head of the list.