Thirteen militants were killed on Saturday by Tajikistani security forces, the government said, a day after 22 people died in bloodshed blamed on a former deputy minister.
The crackdown followed a day of violence in which nine policemen and another 13 militants were killed in two separate attacks in the Central Asian country.
“The militants were offered to surrender but they refused. The operation continues,” a Tajikistani Ministry of the Interior spokesman said, referring to a joint police and army operation in the air and on the ground.
Friday’s attacks targeted a police post on the outskirts of the capital, Dushanbe, and a police station in Vahdat, about 20km to the east.
Militants also managed to managed to steal “a large quantity of weapons and ammunition” from Tajikistani Ministry of Defense stockpile in Dushanbe, officials said.
The government said that the attacks were orchestrated by former Tajikistani deputy minister of defense Abdulhalim Nazarzoda, who was dismissed from his position on Friday.
They have accused him of belonging to the moderate Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), the country’s largest opposition faction, which was effectively closed down by the government last week.
Those killed on Saturday died in a government attack on a remote mountain area about 50km northeast of the capital, officials said.
“Until now, we have arrested 32 members of Nazarzoda’s criminal group, and 13 of them were killed,” a defense ministry statement said.
The security forces also managed to recover more than 500 guns and ammunition.
In a telephone call with Tajikistani President Emomali Rakhmon, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Friday’s attacks as “an attempt to destabilize” the country, a Kremlin spokesman said.
Moscow maintains a military base with about 7,000 soldiers in Tajikistan.
The Tajikistani government has said 51-year-old Nazarzoda — who was dismissed “in connection with a crime” — fought on the side of the United Tajik Opposition during the 1992 to 1997 civil war, which cost about 150,000 lives. It did not give details of the criminal offence he had allegedly committed.
Nazarzoda, who took up the position of deputy defense minister in January, has worked at the ministry since 1999, when anti-government fighters were integrated into state institutions after the civil war.
Government claims that Nazarzoda belonged to the IRPT were denied by the movement.
Last week, the interior ministry accused the IRPT of having ties with the Islamic State group, arresting 20 of its members on grounds they had allegedly raised the group’s black flag.
The move came a day after the Tajikistani Ministry of Justice had ordered the party to halt its “illegal activities,” on the grounds it was not widely enough represented, in a move seen as an effective ban on the country’s main opposition party.
The IRPT had been recognized as legitimate after the end of the civil war in 1997, and analysts have said that the crackdown could end up radicalizing the moderate Muslim opposition.
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