Tajikistan's security forces are searching for an ousted former deputy minister and his followers, two days after clashes in and around Dushanbe killed 22 people, including nine police and 13 militants.
The hunt for former Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda is focusing on a mountainous area near Romit Gorge, about 150 kilometers east of Dushanbe.
Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry said Nazarzoda and his followers fled toward Romit Gorge after carrying out the deadly September 4 attacks on an arsenal and a police station.
Four more militants were killed by government forces during an operation in the Romit Gorge on September 6, the Interior Ministry said.
President Emomali Rahmon said on September 6 that the attacks on police had been staged by militants sharing the views of the Islamic State militant group and were aimed at undermining his rule of the Central Asian country.
He was speaking in the Vahdat district near the capital where the attack on the police headquarters occurred.
He described the culprits of the attacks as "terrorists with evil consciences to destabilize the situation," local media reported.
Rahmon said the rebels "pursued the same goals as Islamic State."
More than 500 Tajiks have joined Islamic State militants, according to government estimates. Rahmon said 46 came from Vahdat and 11 had been killed in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry said on September 6 that two officers in the Defense Ministry suspected of complicity in the attacks had been detained.
In a statement, the ministry said the two officers "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."
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry also claimed that Nazarzoda's brother -- Mirzokhayot Nazarov -- had surrendered to authorities, according to Interfax.
It was unclear whether Mirzokhayot Nazarov was involved in the attacks and if he was among his brother's followers.
The ministry said on September 5 that 32 of Nazarzoda’s followers had been arrested.
Police said they seized more than 500 weapons, ammunition, and several vehicles from the group, which has been deemed a terrorist organization.
Authorities accused Nazarzoda of siding with Islamic militants and said as many as 130 of his supporters fled with him.
But on September 5, the Interior Ministry said only seven or eight supporters of the former commander of the Islamic opposition remained with him.
Earlier on September 5, police officials said 150 troops had been deployed to the Romit Gorge area as part of the manhunt for Nazarzoda.
Nazarzoda is a former member of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), an alliance of democratic, nationalist, and Islamist forces who fought government troops during Tajikistan’s civil war in the 1990s.
Nazarzoda was one of the UTO members who joined the cabinet under a shaky power-sharing agreement that was part of a 1997 peace deal with Rahmon’s government.
The recently banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan rejected claims that Nazarzoda was a member of the Islamic party.
It said on September 5 that according to Tajik laws employees of law-enforcement agencies and members of armed forces are barred from joining political parties.
The party expressed concern about the September 4 attacks and described them as "internal problems of law-enforcement agencies."
The Interior Ministry said the attack in Vahdat near Dushanbe was not connected to the beating of Umar Bobojonov, the 23-year-old victim of an alleged police beating who died from his injuries in the Vahdat hospital late on September 4.
Relatives and friends of Bobojonov, a Vahdat native, say he was targeted by police on August 28 because of his beard.
Bobojonov's case sparked outrage in Vahdat, where dozens of people gathered outside the hospital on August 31 to demand the authorities arrest the culprits.