Officials in Kyrgyzstan say they have killed 11 unidentified attackers in a remote mountain valley near China, sparking a storm of speculation but providing very little concrete information about what happened or how.
The State Border Service said in a statement that the members of a “criminal gang” had been killed while putting up resistance on January 23 at an isolated frontier post, some 40 kilometers from the Chinese border, after they had killed a hunter and used his gun against border troops.
It’s unclear what the alleged attackers, nationality unknown, were doing running around in the dead of winter in a remote region where mountain valleys average above 3,500 meters (11,500 feet), but Kyrgyz media, officials and talking heads were happy to spend the day speculating, pontificating, and criticizing the bizarre situation.
Governor Emil Kaptagaev of Issyk-Kul Province, where the incident took place, started the guesswork off provocatively when he suggested the group could be Uighur militants from China. (No stranger to drama, Kaptagaev made headlines last autumn when he was kidnapped and doused with petrol by match-wielding constituents demanding the nationalization of a Canadian-run gold mine not far from Thursday’s shootout.)
Five suspected terrorists have been shot dead in a security operation in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west, following a blast in the city of Atyrau last week in which one man died.
The shootout with police took place in the town of Kulsary, 230 kilometers from the energy hub of Atyrau, Tengri News reports. Another suspect and one police officer were injured.
Security forces moved in on suspects “involved in the activity of a terrorist group” on September 12, Tengri News quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying, and shot the five dead after they reportedly exploded some devices and opened fire on police.
The incident follows a September 5 explosion in an Atyrau apartment in which one man died. Investigators believe he was making explosive devices in order to attack the security forces and have arrested four suspected accomplices.
Once-calm Kazakhstan experienced a spate of extremist-related incidents in 2011, and – after what appeared to be a lull in terrorist activity in the first half of 2012 – incidents are again occurring with frequency.
On July 11 an explosion in the village of Tausamaly outside Almaty killed four adults and four children. Investigators believe the blast was an accidental detonation in a house being used to make bombs. Then, on July 30, six men suspected of murdering two law-enforcement officers were shot dead by police in Almaty.
At least nine Tajik soldiers have been killed and 20 wounded in an operation against a local warlord in Tajikistan's eastern Badakhshan province, local media are reporting. An unspecified number of militants have also been killed and BBC’s Russian service says there are civilian casualties.
Sources in Khorog, capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) in the Pamir Mountains, reported a heavy military buildup on July 23 in response to the weekend murder of a top security official. General Abdullo Nazarov, head of the regional branch of the GKNB (successor to the KGB), was reportedly stabbed on July 21 by a group of men who dragged him from his car as he returned from a business trip to Ishkashim, about a two hours’ drive south of Khorog. Both towns lie on the porous Afghanistan border and along major drug-trafficking routes.
Tajikistan patted itself soundly on the back after rubbing out arch-Islamist insurgent Abdullo Rakhimov in April, but its security officials are not about to sit on their laurels.
According to the authorities, Rakhimov, aka Mullo Abdullo, was behind the killing of dozens of soldiers in the remote eastern Rasht Valley and was plotting to wage a campaign of terror across the country. After a successful military operation, however, Rakhimov and numerous accomplices were eliminated, putting a stop to all that.
Interior Minister Abdurakhim Kakhorov is now warning that the country's other oft-mentioned bogeyman, Mahmoud Khudoiberdiyev, could at some point make a resurgence and invade Tajikistan.
Khudoiberdiyev's story is altogether more complicated than Rakhimov's. (And piecing it together is not made any simpler by the seemingly endless ways that his names can be transliterated into English.)
Here is a useful biographical passage from Jesse Driscoll's article "Commitment Problems or Bidding Wars - Rebel Fragmentation as Peace-Building," which goes with a French-style spelling for Khudoiberdiyev:
Recent violence on the Tajik-Kyrgyz border may vindicate those predicting that Islamic militants could spill over the Ferghana Valley’s porous borders. It could also deepen tension between the valley’s three squabbling governments.
In Tajikistan’s Charku village, authorities have been battling militants they call members of the extremist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an al-Qaeda affiliate, killing three and arresting one on October 29, Avesta.tj reports.
After two months of militant activity in Tajikistan, the latest fighting is unusual because it has happened in the de facto no man’s land between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There is no clear border between what the Kyrgyz call Kok-Tash and the Tajiks Charku; the frontier zigzags between homes in the ethnically mixed settlement with Tajiks and Kyrgyz laying claims to each other’s territory. (Contrary to some media reports, Charku is not a Tajik enclave, but a peninsula of contiguous Tajik land pointing into Kyrgyzstan.)
"Taking part in the Rasht district events were citizens of former Soviet republics, foremost Tajik citizens," Rakhmon stated. He referred to the special operation by the republic's law-enforcement bodies to neutralize illegal paramilitary formations that began on September 22.
According to the Tajik leader, there have been no breakthroughs by the Taliban or al Qaeda into the eastern part of Tajikistan.
Earlier, law-enforcement representatives officially stated that there were foreign mercenaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Russian Federation fighting on the side of the militants.
Foreign pundits have eagerly rallied around Tajik assertions that foreign Islamic terrorists have descended on the country. Citing government officials, for example, London’s Telegraph reported last week that al Qaeda had set up training camps in the mountainous former Soviet republic on Afghanistan’s poorly guarded northern border.
It would be much simpler if all of Tajikistan’s former opposition commanders would just admit they are working in cahoots against the government and are responsible for this week’s slaughter of 25 soldiers in the eastern Rasht district.
But Dushanbe isn’t waiting for their confession. Tajik authorities have decided on their culprit and shot up his house on September 22, killing at least five and sending everyone else fleeing for the mountains. If they didn’t have a reason to fight, they do now.
True, the house’s owner, Mirzokhuja Ahmadov, is regularly fingered for anti-government activities. A commander during Tajikistan’s 1992-1997 civil war, which left tens of thousands dead, he has lived an uneasy peace since. He’s one of the many former commanders promised a place in the government after the 1997 peace treaty, only to be squeezed out later. It is unclear if he survived the rocket assault on his home.
Sources inside the Rasht district, which is about 200 kilometers east of Dushanbe, told RFE/RL that after the attack on Ahmadov's house another former opposition commander, Shoh Iskandarov, had reportedly joined the militants.