Tajikistan: 15 Islamists, civilians `killed in operation`
Tajikistan has recently been wracked by violence blamed on Islamist militants.
Dushanbe: Military strikes against presumed Islamist fighters that killed a Tajik rebel leader also had civilian casualties, and the toll could rise to 15 as the operation continues, officials said on Saturday.
"Rebel chief Abdullo Mullo is among the dead. The number of killed militants could reach 15" as the military continues picking up the bodies in the remote Rasht valley after artillery and air strikes earlier this week, Interior Ministry spokesman said.
According to Tajik authorities, Mullo has links with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"During the operation, militants killed two civilians, and one Tajik soldier was wounded," the spokesman said.
The ministry said Mullo was responsible for an attack on a military convoy in east Afghanistan that killed 25 people in September last year. And in July 1998, he allegedly organised an attack on a UN convoy in which a Japanese, an Uruguayan and a Pole were killed.
Tajikistan, a majority-Muslim country and the poorest state to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union, has in recent years been wracked by violence blamed on Islamist militants, after a 1997 peace accorded ended a civil war that had claimed 150,000 lives.
Police have linked various attacks to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group affiliated with al Qaeda, and Hizb ut-Tahrir -- an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that was founded in the Middle East.