At least 25 inmates, including alleged members of a militant Islamic group, escaped from a maximum-security prison in Tajikistan on August 23 in a series of events that left six guards dead. The fugitives were believed to be headed for the Rasht Valley, a remote area of eastern Tajikistan where Islamic militants have been active in the past.
An undetermined number of attackers mounted an assault late on the night of August 22 against the prison in Dushanbe, run by the State Committee for National Security. After freeing the inmates, the militants raided a Justice Ministry facility, making off with a bevy of weapons. Six government law enforcement officers died in the attacks. There were no reported casualties among the raiders. The prison raid underscores the tenuous security climate in Tajikistan, a country that has been hit hard by economic woes over the past two years.
Among the escapees were sons and supporters of Mirzo Ziyoev, a former top United Tajik Opposition commander during Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war, along with several members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), allegedly of Russian and Afghan origin. Some of the suspected Islamic militants were taken into custody last year during a government security sweep in the Rasht Valley. [For background see the EurasiaNet’s archive].
Some of the escapees had been convicted in mid-August on terrorism charges and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 30 years.
Authorities set up checkpoints at railways stations and at Dushanbe’s airport, as well as on all roads leading out of the Tajik capital. Border patrols have also been put on alert in an attempt to keep the fugitives from crossing into Afghanistan. President Imomali Rahmon appointed Interior Ministry Gen. Abdurakhim Kakharov to head the government task force that is coordinating efforts to recapture the fugitives.
In addition, Tajik special services contacted Russian and Afghan security agencies, seeking their help in efforts to recapture the escapees. “Taking into account the international composition of the group of dangerous criminals who escaped from the detention facility, we will cooperate with the Russian FSB and the Afghan special services,” Kasym Gafarov, deputy head of the Tajik National Security Committee, told journalists during an August 23 news conference in Dushanbe.
Gafarov also identified several suspected ringleaders of the prison raid, including two Tajik citizens, Ibragim Nasriddinov, 36, and Khikmat Azizov, 17, along with 17-year-old Magomed Akhmedov, who is said to come from the Russian region of Dagestan.
The escape could turn up the heat on Rahmon’s administration, which has struggled over the past year to maintain a sense of socio-economic equilibrium in Tajikistan. [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive]. Many of the fugitives are avowed political enemies of the president.
Since the end of the Tajik civil war, Rahmon has assiduously worked to ease political rivals out of positions of authority, and then neutralize them altogether.
The prison break offers evidence that Rahmon, his political position weakened by the ongoing economic hardships, may have overreached in his latest attempts to eliminate potential threats to his authority.