Tajikistan: Prison Breakout Linked to Islamist Radicalism

Authorities in Tajikistan have said they have all but contained a breakout from a jail in the northern city of Khujand, while at least one media outlet has reported that numerous prisoners have escaped.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that one man was shot dead while trying to flee the prison in a breakout that occurred at 8:45 p.m on June 17. Another prisoner was wounded and captured during the breakout, while a third managed to escape, despite sustaining injuries, the statement said.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that a prison guard, 52-year-old Ermamad Alimamadov, was stabbed to death during the escape.

Officials have variously speculated to the media that the fugitives were plotting to cross over to Afghanistan and possibly attempt to join the ranks of the Islamic State group.

The escapees were named as Ramzullohon Dodohonov, Habibjon Yusupov, Mirzozarif Kayumov. Dodohonov was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2013 for allegedly participating in militant activities in Pakistan’s tribal region of Waziristan. Kayumov was serving a 14-year jail sentence handed down in December for fighting alongside Islamist radicals in Iraq. The standout figure in the trio was Yusupov, who was also sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2014, but over a non-religious extremism-related case. He took part in the robbery of a money exchange point that culminated with the death of an employee. 

Kayumov was shot dead by guards as he was trying to flee. Yusupov was wounded and detained. Dodohonov incurred injuries too, but managed to escape.

Russian online news agency Regnum cited unnamed officials as saying between five and 25 people had fled the prison, but that information has not been confirmed. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, said that law enforcement personnel in Khujand have been summoned to their barracks over the incident.

Asia-Plus cited unnamed officials as saying that the fugitives had intended to eventually join the Islamic State after the escape. That nugget was somewhat implausibly volunteered by Yusupov in a post-capture interrogation, according to the website’s report.

RIA-Novosti cited the deputy head of the State Committee for National Security, Mansurjon Umarov, as saying that the group was planning to flee to Afghanistan, but adding nothing about Islamic State.

For a wanted criminal, successfully getting to Afghanistan from the northern Sughd province would be a remarkable undertaking. The only available domestic, overland route would be through the single, high-altitude highway linking the north and the south of Tajikistan, where security will have been intensified. Alternatively, a fugitive might with sufficient assistance look to get into Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan — both options that would present varying degrees of complication. Kyrgyzstan would theoretically present a more straightforward option, although there are no obvious undetectable means to get from there into Afghanistan. One highly implausible possibility would entail a lengthy overland voyage that would require the person to re-enter Tajikistan.

The lack of transparent information in Tajikistan means that divining alleged criminals’ actual motivations or intentions is in fact impossible. Still, the government has long worried openly about the potential for prisons to act as an incubator for radical Islamism.

Hudoiberdi Holiknazar, head of the government-run Strategic Studies Center think tank, last year speculated that some member of radical Islamist groups were intentionally committing crimes so they could get into prison and spread their message while there. 

Tajikistan: Prison Breakout Linked to Islamist Radicalism

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