France has denied responsibility for an assassination attempt on a Russian citizen closely linked to the Wagner group — a controversial mercenary firm that's trained and fought with local armed forces in the Central African Republic.
Dmitry Syty, who runs the “Russian House” in the CAR's capital of Bangui, was left injured this week after receiving a package that exploded in his hands, according to Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Prigozhin, who's also known as Putin's "chef," accused the French of being behind the attack. But French minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna rejected the accusations.
“This information is false, here I tell you very simply, and it is even a good example of Russian propaganda and the fanciful imagination that sometimes characterizes this propaganda,” Colonna told CNN in a statement. "I will not comment on Wagner's position in general, you know that this militia engages in regrettable exactions on the civilian populations. I would have a lot to say about them but now is not the time,” she added.
Prigozhin claimed Syty’s last words before falling unconscious and being taken to the hospital were: “I saw a note: ‘This is for you from all the French, the Russians will get out of Africa.'”
Prigozhin also claimed that on Nov. 11, Syty received a package from Togo containing a photograph of his son, who lives in France, accompanied by a note saying he would receive his son's head if "the Russians do not get out of the African continent and open the doors for the French."
"I have already applied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation so that it initiates the procedure for declaring France a state sponsor of terrorism, as well as conducting a thorough investigation of the terrorist methods of France and its Western allies — the United States and others," Prigozhin said.
CNN is unable to confirm Prigozhin's allegations.
More context: The Wagner Group is often described as President Vladimir Putin’s off-the-books troops. It has expanded its footprint globally since its creation in 2014 and has been accused of war crimes in Africa, Syria and Ukraine.