Unidentified men opened fire on a column of troops in Tajikistan on Sunday, killing at least 23 and sparking a fierce shootout which continues to rage, a senior government official told Reuters. The troops had been travelling to reinforce roadblocks in the north of the country, a month after prisoners including organisers of an alleged coup plot escaped a detention centre in the capital Dushanbe.
Tajikistan, a Muslim country which shares a porous 1,340-km (840-mile) border with Afghanistan, is battling growing radicalism and has imprisoned more than 100 members of banned groups this year alone.
The Tajik government official, who requested anonymity, said the attackers may have been members of the Islamist opposition.
“A column of trucks carrying army servicemen came under heavy submachine fire from an ambush in the Komarob gorge,” the official said. “The column is not moving. The fighting continues. Armoured vehicles are now being drawn to the area.”
He said at least 23 government servicemen had been killed and 10 others wounded in the attack, which occured in the Rasht region, some 50 km (30 miles) from the border with Afghanistan and 180 km (110 miles) east of the Tajik capital.
Defence Minister Sherali Khairulloyev was flying by helicopter to Rasht, the official added.
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon left for New York hours before the attack to take part in the session of the United Nations General Assembly and a government spokesman said he had had no plans to cut short the trip.
“The Tajik president demanded that the republic’s security bodies put the east of the country in order and expressed his condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the dead,” the spokesman said.