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Weekend firefights around the capital of Tajikistan kill at least 35 people

Officials said former Deputy Defense Minister Abdukhalim Nazarzoda was leading a "terrorist group."

By
Fred Lambert
Gun battles between authorities and an organized criminal group allegedly led by the former Deputy Minister of Defense of Tajikistan killed dozens of people in and around the country's capital over the weekend, according to reports. Google Maps image.
Gun battles between authorities and an "organized criminal group" allegedly led by the former Deputy Minister of Defense of Tajikistan killed dozens of people in and around the country's capital over the weekend, according to reports. Google Maps image.

Gun battles between authorities and an "organized criminal group" killed at least 35 people over the weekend around the capital of Tajikistan.

The clashes began Friday morning in and around the city of Dushanbe when gunmen "captured significant amounts of weapons and ammunition" during a raid on the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Vahdat city and the central apparatus for the Ministry of Defense, according to a statement by the National Information Agency of Tajikistan.

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At least nine police officers and 13 gunmen were killed in the fighting, and on Saturday security forces reportedly killed another 13 of the suspects where they had entrenched and refused to surrender in remote mountains northeast of the capital.

Another 32 suspects were arrested, according to authorities.

Officials say the gunmen were under the leadership of former Deputy Defense Minister Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, 51, who was sacked Friday after being accused of belonging to the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikstan, a group that was banned last week over alleged ties with the Islamic State.

Nazarzoda is a former member of the United Tajik Opposition, an alliance of anti-government militant groups that was folded into the regular Tajiki government in 1997 following the end of a five-year civil war.

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Authorities say searches of a bakery and residence owned by Nazarzoda -- as well pursuits of the gunmen around the city -- uncovered stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.

The U.S. embassy in the country closed its doors Friday and advised U.S. citizens to shelter in place.

"Although the significance of these events is unclear," a statement from the embassy read, "they may be precursors to other acts of violence."

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