Tbilisi rocked by ‘terror’ operation
Explosions and gunfire shook an apartment block in the Isani district during the 20-hour stand-off.
A spokeswoman told Radio Free Europe that the militants were “foreign nationals” with suspected links to an unnamed terror group. The security forces reportedly faced gunfire and hand grenades.
Most Georgians are Christian and the mountainous country has not reported any jihadist-related incidents in recent years. But it is estimated that about 50 Georgian nationals have been fought with so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The Islamist militants are mostly ethnic Chechens living in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, which is said to be a centre of Islamist extremism.
Pankisi gained attention as the home of Omar Shishani, an Isis commander who was reportedly killed last year in northeastern Syria, according to the US.
Shishani, a former officer in the Georgian army, was previously known as Tarkhan Batirashvili and his father still lives in the Pankisi valley. He is thought to have encouraged young men from Pankisi to join Isis in Syria.
“In the past few years mosques have appeared in every village in Pankisi,” said Lia Margoshvili, Pankisi resident and a school manager at the Roddy Scott Foundation. “They opened Arabic language courses at mosques and kids go and learn Arabic, but nobody knows where the money is coming from.”
The majority of the Pankisi population of around 10,000 are Kist Muslims of Chechen or Ingush origin who settled in Georgia around 200 years ago.
An imam from the Pankisi Gorge was jailed for 14 years in Georgia last year for helping recruit young men for Isis.
In this week’s incident in Tiblisi, one member of the militant group had been detained with three were killed, according to the authorities.
“The members of the group are not Georgian citizens and it is assumed they are members of a terrorist organisation,” state security administration deputy chief Nino Giorgobiani told the media.
She said surveillance of the gang started several weeks ago and the security services were working with international counter-terror organisations to identify the group’s members and their links to wider networks.
Giorgobiani said efforts had been made to persuade the militants to surrender.
Georgians are reportedly among Islamic State’s foreign volunteers in Syria. Picture credit: Wikimedia