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More Detained In Tajikistan As Manhunt Continues For Ousted Defense Official

  • RFE/RL's Tajik Service

Tajikistan's former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda

Tajikistan's former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda

Authorities in Tajikistan say they have detained 14 more followers of an ousted deputy defense minister who has been on the run since an eruption of deadly violence on September 4.

The joint statement from the Interior Ministry and State Committee for National Security called on the official, Abduhalim Nazarzoda, and his supporters to surrender their weapons and hand themselves in.

Officials have blamed them for the attacks on a police station and an arsenal near the capital, Dushanbe, which killed 26 people, including nine police officers and 17 suspected militants.

Earlier on September 7, Tajik security forces said the hunt for Nazarzoda continued in a mountainous area near Romit Gorge, about 150 kilometers east of Dushanbe, where Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said Nazarzoda and a handful of followers fled after carrying out the deadly attacks.

Meanwhile, neighboring Kyrgyzstan said it had stepped up security measures along its border with Tajikistan.

The Kyrgyz border service said on September 7 that its units near the frontier were on alert and reinforcements had been deployed.

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon described the individuals responsible for the attacks, which he said were aimed at undermining his rule, as having ideological ties to the brutal Sunni militant group Islamic State (IS), which controls swaths of Syria and Iraq.​

WATCH: Tajik Operations Target Former Deputy Minister (no audio)

Speaking in the district of Vahdat, where the attack on the police headquarters occurred, Rahmon said the culprits were"terrorists with evil consciences [intending] to destabilize the situation," local media reported.

Tensions in Tajikistan were ratcheted up last month with an official ban on what was Central Asia's lone Islamic political party -- the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), which was part of an antigovernment alliance in the country's civil war two decades ago.

Nazarzoda is a former member of that patchwork wartime alliance -- called the United Tajik Opposition.

He led an Islamist militia faction during the 1990s, and his appointment as deputy minister was an extension of the 1997 power-sharing deal with Rahmon's government that ended the war.

Tajikistan's Interior Ministry said on September 6 that seven Tajiks, including two high-ranking defense officials, have been charged with terrorism for alleged direct or indirect aid to Nazarzoda in last week's attacks.

It added that two of Nazarzoda's Defense Ministry bodyguards suspected of wrongdoing in connection with the September attacks had been detained. The bodyguards "were capable of reporting the planned attacks and thus preventing them. However, their inaction and complicity with the criminals became the cause of instability and killings," it said.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry also said that Nazarzoda's brother, Mirzohayot Nazarov, had surrendered to authorities, but it was unclear whether he was facing charges.

Media outlets across the region have cited a purported message from the fugitive Nazarzoda and his supporters that appeared on September 7 on a website associated with Tajikistan's political opposition. In it, people claiming to write on Nazarzoda's behalf say he had nothing to do with the deadly attacks and was framed by the government in an effort to eliminate politicians and activists associated with the Islamic Renaissance Party.

However, the source of the message could not be confirmed by Nazarzoda or his associates, as the special operation aimed at their arrest continued.

On September 5, Tajik police said a total of 32 of Nazarzoda's followers had been arrested and that more than 500 weapons, ammunition, and several vehicles had been seized from the group.

Authorities initially said as many as 130 of Nazarzoda's supporters had fled with him toward Romit Gorge, but they subsequently revised that figure down to just seven or eight people.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, AFP, BBC, RIA, Lenta.ru, and Interfax
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