Tajikistan pledges to find orchestrator of deadly attacks

Army general accused of planning and participating in gun battles that killed at least 22

Tajikistan has pledged to hunt down a fugitive former army general accused of orchestrating two deadly attacks on security buildings in and around the capital, Dushanbe, late last week.

At least 22 people were killed during gun battles between law enforcers and rebels at the ministry of interior headquarters in Dushanbe and at a police station in the nearby town of Vahdat at dawn on Friday.

Within hours of the attack Emomali Rahmon, the president of Tajikistan, issued a decree dismissing General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, his deputy defence minister, for "committing a crime".

Tajikistan’s interior ministry said the disgraced general had “planned and participated in the attacks from start to finish”, before holing up with a group of fellow defence officials and a mass of stolen weaponry in the Ramit gorge some 50km east of Dushanbe.


The violence has sparked fears of renewed unrest in Tajikistan where a violent civil war between the secular government and Islamist opposition forces claimed thousands of lives in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Rahmon, a former Soviet collective farm director who rose to power during the war, agreed to share power with the opposition in a peace deal brokered by Russia in 1997 that brought an end to the hostilities.

Disturbing events

However, the Tajik leader has moved to sideline his opponents in recent years and has cracked down on religious freedoms in the name of a battle against Islamic extremism.

The attacks on security buildings on Friday came amid a string of disturbing events that have shocked Muslim believers in Tajikistan.

Only last week the Tajik justice ministry approved the abolition of the influential Islamic Renaissance Party, the political heir to the United Tajik Opposition that challenged the government during the civil war.

In a glaring example of escalating religious repression police in Vahdat beat a Tajik youth, who later died of his injuries, for refusing to shave his beard.

Tajik security forces launched a large-scale military offensive in the Ramit gorge at the weekend scouring the mountainous area from helicopters in search for General Nazarzoda and his alleged accomplices. Seventeen rebels were killed during fighting in the mountainous area and large horde of weapons and ammunitions captured, according to the Tajik interior ministry. Mirzokhayot Nazarov, the brother of Nazarzoda, gave himself up to the authorities, but the general remained at large.

Visiting Vahdat to open a new cement plant on Sunday, Tajikistan president Emomali Rahmon said those behind the Friday attacks were seeking to destabilise Tajikistan and shared the “same goals as the Islamist State”.

But the authorities have not explained what might have motivated General Nazarzoda, who had worked for more than 16 years at the defence ministry, to take up arms against the security services.

Serious crisis

High-profile defections from Tajik law enforcement agencies have happened in the past.

Colonel Gulmorod Khalimov

, the former head of the country’s special purpose Omon police, disappeared early this year only to resurface in an Islamic State propaganda video threatening Russia and the US with a jihad or holy war. Several hundred Tajik nationals are reported to be fighting in IS ranks in


and Iraq.

Whatever General Nazarzoda’s motives for betraying the security services, events of the past week indicate Tajikistan is embroiled in a “serious political crisis”, wrote Alexei Malashenko, a central Asia expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

The disbandment of the Islamic Renaissance Party, which has traditionally advocated moderate Islam, would inevitably lead to a rise in religious radicalism in Tajikistan, he said.

Vladimir Putin reassured Mr Rahmon in a telephone conversation at the weekend that Russia was ready to help bolster stability in Tajikistan.

But Kremlin support will come at a price, warned Mr Malashenko. Mr Putin was likely to insist that Tajikistan signs up to join the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union grouping of former Soviet states in exchange for military favours.