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19 Sep, 2010 17:31

Over 20 Tajik soldiers killed in ambush

The Defense Ministry of Tajikistan has confirmed the death of 23 soldiers in a gunfight, and has called it a terrorist act.

Local media earlier reported 40 deaths, but the ministry has not confirmed the information.

“A Defense Ministry convoy came under terror attack in Kamarob Gorge of the Rasht district at 12:30 on September 19,” Tajik Defense Ministry spokesman Faridun Makhmadaliyev told Interfax news agency. “Twenty-three servicemen were killed, among them several Defense Ministry and National Guard officers.”

According to Makhmadaliyev, the attack was carried out by foreign mercenaries from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Chechnya, who are “using the holy religion of Islam as a cover for their plan to turn Tajikistan into an arena of internal wars.”

He also observed that those injured have been taken to hospital, some in critical condition. Faridun Makhmadaliyev added that the police are currently working at the scene of the attack and are taking measures to detain the group.

I think the man behind the attack [Abdullo Rahimov – ed.] has links with Al-Qaeda, as he is based in Pakistan,” said Andrey Murtazin, a political analyst from RIA Novosti news agency, further suggesting that Rahimov may be involved with mercenaries from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia’s Republic of Chechnya.

The convoy was attacked during their search for prisoners who had escaped from a high security prison.

Last month, more than 20 people sentenced for their part in an attempted coup killed the jail's security guards and escaped into the mountains.

They were part of the Islamist opposition movement that fought against the central government in Tajikistan’s civil war in the 1990s.