Eight policemen have been killed in Tajikistan after gunmen attacked state security buildings in the capital Dushanbe and the adjacent city of Vahdat, the country’s interior ministry said.
It is not yet clear who was behind the attacks, but authorities claimed they were linked to the country’s opposition Islamic Revival Party (IRP), which was recently banned.
Security forces pursued the insurgents, led by the sacked deputy defense minister, General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, to Ramit Gorge some 150 km (95 miles) from the city.
“The territory has been completely surrounded, the operation to apprehend and neutralize the criminals is under way,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that both the army and special forces were involved, and 32 insurgents had been captured so far.
The two attacks came amid tension over the prohibition of the predominantly Muslim country’s only registered Islamic political party and the brutal beating of a 23-year-old student, Umar Bobojonov, allegedly by police who were trying to force him to shave his beard.
Tajikistan’s staunchly secular government shows little tolerance for anything it perceives as a potential sign of religious extremism, and the authorities occasionally round up bearded men to force them to shave or present them with hefty fines. Bobojonov’s case sparked outrage in Vahdat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his support for the Tajik government in a telephone conversation with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon on Saturday. He said that he considered Friday’s attack “an attempt to destabilize the domestic situation” there, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
Putin will be traveling to Tajikistan to a regional security conference later this month.