A manhunt in Kyrgyzstan for a group of prison fugitives culminated in a bloody showdown on October 22 with police and special forces killing the last escapee at large.
Authorities sought to cast the fugitives as dangerous Islamist militants, but a spate of mysterious deaths and implausible details in the official narrative suggest the focus may fall elsewhere.
According to the government account, the drama began on the night of October 11, when nine inmates at a detention facility outside the capital, Bishkek, overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards are said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later.
Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances.
But the focus of attention over the past week has been on the four that got away.
Progress was slow to begin with, but all but one from that group has now been killed.
The first to be tracked down was Daniyar Kadyraliev, who was surrounded by police as he holed up in the Dordoi residential complex in the capital, Bishkek.
The Interior Ministry said Kadyraliev was shot dead after tried to attack a police officer with a knife. In a confusing detail, it was initially reported that it was not Kadyraliev that had been killed but another person in the group of escapees, Azamat Masuraliev.
In fact, Masuraliev would end up being killed by police four days later in the a village in the Sokoluk district of the northern Chui province.
An Interior Ministry source told AKIpress that Masuraliev was killed resisting arrest while hiding in a barn.
One fugitive, Edil Abdrahmanov, was caught alive, only to be subjected to a bizarre immediate post-detention interrogation as lay he groaning in the mud. The entire scene was filmed and released to the media.
In the footage, a flag of the Islamic State group was stretched out next to a prostrate Abdrahmanov, who has a crude tourniquet above his knee for a gunshot purportedly sustained during a confrontation with law enforcement authorities. What appears to be a handgun, but what officials later admitted was a toy, can be seen at his side.
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan have taken to liberally labelling criminal suspects as Islamic State members, although the credibility of the claims has been severely strained by other supposed information about the same individuals released by police to the media. Abdrahmanov has previously been identified belonging to Jaysh al-Mahdi, a Shia militant group with roots in Iraq.
Jaysh al-Mahdi has been linked by security services to a series of claimed bombings in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Officials also say the group is responsible for the murder of three police officers and a special forces operative.
Video footage believed to have been filmed in 2010 shows Abdrahmanov holding an automatic rifles and spouting largely incoherent calls to a vaguely Islamic-tinged violent uprising. The clip reveals little about his ideological or sectarian persuasions, however.
The last fugitive to be tracked down by security forces was also a purported Jaysh al-Mahdi member. Altynbek Itibayev was reportedly surrounded in an apartment in the Bishkek district Dostuk. News website Kloop.kg reported that in addition to Itibayev, an Interior Ministry special forces officer and a local resident were also killed.
Authorities have resolutely adopted a shoot first-ask-questions later policy toward those still on the run, but there are indications that treatment of those already in detention has been similarly unflinching.
Three of the people taken into custody so far have died in unclear circumstances.
The first to die in custody was Taalaibek Zhumanov, who prison doctors said suffered from a heart failure early on October 20. Zhumanov was born in 1970 and had been serving a life sentence for murder after being sentenced 2012.
The killing for which Zhumanov was convicted appears to have stemmed from a trivial dispute and there is not immediate sign he had any previous association with radical Islamic organizations.
Fellow fugitive Bakyt Kenzhegulov died later the same day, also from alleged heart and respiratory problems, according to prison officials.
Before suddenly falling prey to the conditions that killed him, Kenzhegulov was being held in a cell on his own. He was serving his life sentence for attempted murder, terrorism, organization of a criminal conspiracy, and the illegal acquisition and ownership of weapons.
Finally, it was revealed on October 21 that 33-year old Muratbek Zhumaliev had died in hospital, more than a week after he was arrested following his escape from hospital.
Zhumaliev’s close relatives pleaded at a press conference on October 22 for the authorities to hand over his body for burial. Since he was apparently suspected of terrorism-related crimes, there is a strong likelihood the authorities can duck those demands.
That might be seen as unfortunate since it would impede a clear understanding of how so many people have suddenly come to drop dead in prison.
Zhumaliev’s brother said in the press conference that there was no history of health problems that could account for such a sudden death.
“My brother never had any trouble with his health. He always was attentive about his health and he ate in a proper fashion,” Urmat Zhumaliev said.
The government’s haste to describe all those involved in the alleged prison escape as being linked to Islamic extremism will be more than enough to ensure the flow of information about this episode is limited, so little is likely to leak out beyond what the authorities choose to divulge.