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Twenty-Five Militants Escape Prison In Tajikistan

DUSHANBE -- Tajik authorities say some 25 Islamic militants serving long jail terms have escaped from prison, killing at least five prison guards.

The inmates broke free overnight from a detention center of Tajikistan's State Committee of National Security in the capital, Dushanbe.

Officials said the inmates were among some 50 people convicted by the Supreme Court last week of terrorism, drug trafficking, and seeking the violent overthrow of the government.

They were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 30 years.

Officials said some of the prisoners belonged to the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). There were nationals of Afghanistan and six Russian citizens among the escapees.

National Security Committee First Deputy Chairman Qosimjon Ghafforov told journalists that 10:15 p.m. on August 22 "a group of prisoners who were temporarily kept in the jail of the State Security Committee of the Republic of Tajikistan, taking advantage of the negligence of the jail warden, based on their plot and using weapons, occupied part of the prison and again committed a crime."

"They brutally killed the jail warden, Karimov Nurmatqul -- who was born in 1979 in Aini region of Sughd province -- and seriously wounded two other wardens," Ghafforov added.

Ghafforov said the group then released another 22 prisoners, including Afghan and Russian nationals serving jail time on terrorism and drug-trafficking charges.

Ghafforov said the prison uprising had been led by Hekmat Azizov, a brother of slain suspected IMU member Nemat Azizov, who was serving 25 years on terrorism, kidnapping, and drug- and weapon-smuggling charges.

Sources within the Justice Ministry told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the escapees also included Abdurasul Mirzoev, the brother of jailed Tajik General Ghaffor Mirzoev. Abdurasul Mirzoev was sentenced last month to 30 years in a closed trial.

The escaped convicts were also said to include two sons of slain former minister Mirzo Ziyoev who were jailed last month for plotting to overthrow the government.

Ghafforov said Dushanbe was seeking help from Afghanistan and Russia in apprehending the escapees.

"The State National Security Committee along with other enforcement entities is doing all that it can to detain and punish that criminal group. For the successful completion of this job, the State National Security Committee of Tajikistan will cooperate with certain structures of Russia and Afghanistan and other countries."

The Interior Ministry and the National Security Committee have deployed extra forces on roads in Dushanbe and surrounding areas and all cars are being inspected.

Border posts have also been put on alert.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service, with agency reports