Posted by: Christian | August 25, 2010

Prison Breaks, IEDs and Speculation in Tajikistan

There was recently more excitement in Tajikistan than usual, with a prison break and a shoot-out in the capital that left at least 6 law enforcement and corrections officers dead (NYT,, Eurasianet). About 25-30 prisoners escaped, with various sketchy details as to their affiliation (IMU, North Caucasus jihadis) and some more solid info (fighters affiliated with the now-dead Mirzo Ziyoev, as well as ‘friends’ and relatives of Nemat Azizov and Ghaffur Mirzoev).

Pic: Mirzo Jaga.

Apparently the prisoners killed a guard while escaping, stole uniforms and weapons before attacking another prison, and then disappeared. That’s dramatic enough, but there was another incident reported by

On August 22 there were shootings between the group of unknown people and law enforcement officers in the Gimprozemgorodok district (the micro-district in Dushanbe), where 201st Russian military base is located. Some armed people managed to escape while the detained criminals had big volume of explosives.

Alexander at Tajikistan Monitor (mandatory reading, especially if you want someone to sift through the non-English news reports for you and provide analysis), gives more info on this incident:

The prison escape might be linked with an incident that occurred in Dushanbe yesterday, on 22 August. Three people were accidentally detained by police officers in the south-western part of the capital (where the Russian troops are stationed). The three persons, described by security agencies as “radical Muslims,” were found to have remotely controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs). One of the three bombers managed to escape.

This may be more significant than the jailbreak, especially if the IEDs that these guys had were of a sophisticated level, A shooting in the capital plus IED material would make this is a new and slightly troubling development, as Tajikistan is not exactly “IED Alley,” nor are shooting a regular occurrence. The only place that I have felt as safe living in as in my hometown is in Tajikistan.

Others are more troubled – without even mentioning this incident:

The escape could turn up the heat on Rahmon’s administration, which has struggled over the past year to maintain a sense of socio-economic equilibrium in Tajikistan. Many of the fugitives are avowed political enemies of the president. Since the end of the Tajik civil war, Rahmon has assiduously worked to ease political rivals out of positions of authority, and then neutralize them altogether.

The prison break offers evidence that Rahmon, his political position weakened by the ongoing economic hardships, may have overreached in his latest attempts to eliminate potential threats to his authority.

I disagree here. While Tajikistan’s economic situation may be bleak, it has been far worse in the past. And the current government has come through crises that are much more serious in terms of violent conflict. This doesn’t mean that this government will last forever, but it does make me skeptical of assessments that point to the current government being in trouble.

However, President Rahmon has expressed a high level of concern:

Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon on Wednesday blamed foreign madrasahs for radicalising his impoverished country’s youth, after Islamist militants staged a stunning jailbreak in the capital Dushanbe. Rakhmon, a former Soviet collective farm boss who has ruled the mountainous ex-Soviet state for nearly two decades, blasted Islamic religious schools for allegedly fostering terrorism.

“Many parents think that by sending their children to study in madrasahs in Muslim countries they will be giving them a good financial position in the future,” he said in remarks carried on state television.

“Unfortunately, most of them do not learn from mullahs, but from terrorists and extremists. They must all return home, otherwise they will become enemies and traitors,” he added.

And old photo of mine from the Dushanbe airport: Add some more bad guys to the list.


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