Russian authorities have charged two men with involvement in the murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, one of whom served in a police unit in Chechnya, according to a law enforcement official.
A total of five men were frogmarched into a Moscow courtroom on Sunday, forced by masked security officers gripping their bound arms to walk doubled over. Three of them have not yet been charged and are being treated as suspects, said court spokeswoman Anna Fadeyeva.
Court officials named Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev as those charged, and said Mr Gubashev's brother Shagid was one of the three suspects.
Russian media reports said they originated from Chechnya, the mainly Muslim southern republic that has seen violent separatist insurgencies over the past two decades.
The judge at Mr Dadayev’s hearing, Natalia Mushnikova, said he had admitted involvement in the killing and ordered him to be held in custody until April 28th. “Dadayev’s involvement in committing this crime is confirmed by, apart from his own confession, the totality of evidence gathered as part of this criminal case,” she told the court.
Mr Nemtsov was shot dead on the night of February 27th within sight of the Kremlin walls, in the most high-profile killing of an opposition figure in the 15 years that President Vladimir Putin has been in office.
Some associates of Mr Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister who became a Putin critic, say the Kremlin stands to gain from his death and insist they will only be satisfied if prosecutors track down whoever orchestrated the killing, rather than just the people who pulled the trigger.
Several other high-profile killings in Russia - including the 2006 shooting of jouralist Anna Politkovskaya - have been attributed to gunmen from Chechnya and neighbouring regions, while those who ordered the crimes were never firmly identified.
Russian officials have denied involvement in Mr Nemtsov’s death and Mr Putin has condemned the killing.
A security official in the southern Russian region of Ingushetia where some of the suspects were detained, Albert Barakhayev, told Russian news agencies Dadayev served for about 10 years in the "Sever" police battalion, part of the interior ministry of the neighbouring region of Chechnya.
There was no immediate confirmation of that from the Chechen authorities, and it was not clear if Mr Dadayev was still a serving member of the battalion.
Court officials named the other two suspects as Ramzan Bakhayev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov.
Chechnya is now firmly under the control of its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who now pledges loyalty to Moscow and has considerable autonomy over the running of the region, including its security services. There have been cases in the past where employees of Russian law enforcement agencies have been prosecuted after moonlighting for organised crime groups.
Russia’s Interfax news agency, quoting a Chechen law enforcement source, said a man killed in a standoff with police in the Chechen capital late on Saturday was wanted by police in connection with Mr Nemtsov’s killing.
The agency said when police arrived at an apartment block, the man threw one grenade at officers and then blew himself up with a second.
Mr Nemtsov’s closest aide said the day before his death he clandestinely scribbled a note to her about how he was investigating the involvement of Russia’s military in fighting in east Ukraine.
Some of Mr Nemtsov's friends have asked why the police took so long to arrive at the scene of the crime and how someone could fire six shots at him and get away in an area monitored by closed-circuit television footage.