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Three 'Militants' Killed in Police Operation in Northern Tajikistan

Residents of Isfara, where local authorities fear a rise in support for the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Tajik officials say at least three militants have been killed during a police raid against what they say is a terrorist group in Tajikistan's northern Isfara district.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Tajik Service, Nemat Olimov, head of the local administration in the village of Chorkuh, said residents were evacuated before police forces began their October 28 raid against an armed group there.

"The militants were firing machine guns and Kalashnikov rifles and were throwing grenades," Olimov said, adding that several houses in the neighborhood had caught fire.

"So far, three bodies of the terrorists have been brought here," he said. "One of the bodies has already been sent to the town center for identification. We don't have much clear information yet."

Olimov said at least one of the armed men surrendered to police, while another managed to escape, and said Isfara police believe at least one of the militants was a Kyrgyz citizen.

The incident in Chorkuh reportedly prompted officials in the neighboring Kyrgyz province of Batken to step up security measures near the Kyrgyz-Tajik border, deploying additional troops there.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent in the southern Kyrgyz province of Batken said gunfire could be heard from the Tajik side of the border for several hours, and added that there is an increased military and police presence in Batken.

Growing Support For IMU?

Isfara -- a district of some 130,000 population -- is located in the volatile Ferghana Valley, in the border junction between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The district is considered one of the most religious conservative pockets of the otherwise relatively liberal Sughd Province.

Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party -- which is the only registered Islamic party in Central Asia -- says it has at least 4,500 registered members in Isfara. That's considerably higher than any other region in the country.

However, Tajik officials say they are concerned about what they see as growing support for a number of banned Islamic groups among Isfara residents, most notably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

Earlier this month, the country's Interior Ministry announced that at least 40 Isfara residents are wanted by police in connection with their association with the IMU and other banned extremist groups.

In recent years, dozens of Isfara inhabitants have been arrested for alleged membership in the IMU or for providing support to the group.

Several policemen were attacked in the district last year and at least one high-ranking police officer, Saidumar Saidov, was shot dead outside his home in Isfara district center in September, 2009. The attacks were blamed on religious extremist groups.

Some local residents, however, accuse the authorities of exaggerating the threat of the extremism in the district and putting pressure on peaceful followers of Islam.

The operation in Isfara comes as Tajik government forces continue a military operation against Islamic militants in the country's eastern Rasht Valley.

RFE/RL's Tajik and Kyrgyz Services contributed to this report.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the region’s ongoing struggle with the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.