Shootouts in Tajikistan have once more exposed the fragile stability that only stands to be threatened by government efforts to marginalize all opposition to its rule.
Raids on police stations and military bases early on September 4 appeared well-coordinated and involved individuals that only recently occupied important government posts. According to the Interior Ministry, 17 were killed, including eight law enforcement officials and nine militant gunmen.
The sequence of events is unclear, but one of the first flashpoints seems to have been at a military base near the airport in Dushanbe, where a group of people intruded and carried away large amounts of small arms and ammunition.
A report carried on the Avesta.tj news website cited accounts provided by unnamed officials as saying that this armed group then headed to the town of Vakhdat, where they attacked the local police station.
The Interior Ministry said four police officers were killed in Vakhdat.
One of the alleged attackers killed was Ziyodiddin Abdulloyev, who was a field commander with the United Tajik Opposition during the civil war and was later appointed to a post in the Interior Ministry as part of the post-conflict settlement.
In a separate attack that occurred around the same time near the airport in Dushanbe, two special forces troops and one traffic policeman were reportedly killed in a shootout. Another opposition fighter, Junaidullo Umarov, who held a position in the Defense Ministry, has been linked to that incident.
Residents of an apartment block adjacent to the crossroads where the fighting broke out reported being awoken by gunshots in the early hours of the morning. One said she thought the sounds were from a rehearsal for a military parade.
The residents on the junction of Ayni and Ahmadi Donish streets reported seeing the lifeless body of at least one policeman in a pool of blood and another with serious injuries. Asia-Plus cited security officials as saying that along with the three officers killed, one traffic policeman was taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds.
Pools of bloods could still be seen at the scene before lunchtime on the day the attack. Nervy police officers, who were later joined by young men in suits describing themselves as security service operatives, threatened reporters at the scene. A police officer brandishing an automatic rifle forcibly wrested a dictaphone from the hands of a BBC reporter and forced photographers to delete pictures.
Local media were to hint at the fact this episode might have been a reprisal for last week’s savage beating 22-year old Vakhdat resident Umar Bobojonov, who died of his injuries on the evening of September 3.
Bobojonov’s relatives accused local police of detaining the young man because of his beard. Authorities have long been said to be targeting people that they deem to be displaying an excessively Islamic appearances for intimidation.
Bobojonov, who was on a break from his studies at a university in St. Petersburg, was taken for emergency treatment at a hospital on August 29 and had lain in coma ever since.
Avesta reported that more than 100 people gathered outside Bobojonov’s hospital on August 29 and 30 in a rare gesture of collective defiance to demand that those guilty of the beating be brought to justice. Vakhdat residents have said Bobojonov’s father, Mahmadsaid, was an influential figure who commands substantial respect in the town.
Mahmadsaid Bobojonov has denied that he was in any way involved in the unrest, news website Ozadagon reported.
After the protests outside Vakhdat hospital, the Interior Ministry later released a curt press release to say they were investigating the incident, but no progress was reported.
Authorities have denied that the bloodshed was in any way related to the situation with Bobojonov.
The Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, which was also part of the opposition that battled the government in the 1990s, was also quick to distance itself from the unrest.
Party deputy leader Mahmadali Khait told Asia-Plus he knew little about Abdulloyev, but said he was a police major from the village of Tangai, near Vakhdat. Khait said Umarov has until recently served in the Defense Ministry.
The Islamic Renaissance Party has for years acted as the only real opposition force in Tajikistan, but those days look to be counted since the Justice Ministry last month that it faced closure over technical violations.
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