Tajikistan blames Islamist militants for `terrorist attack`

Groups of "Islamist terrorists" killed at least 23 troops in an ambush.

Dushanbe: Tajikistan said on Monday foreign Islamist militants were responsible for killing at least 23 troops in an ambush near the Central Asian republic`s border with Afghanistan.

Defence Ministry spokesman Faridoon Makhmadaliyev said Sunday`s "terrorist act" had been carried out by militants linked to former warlords who fought against the government in a civil war in the 1990s.

"These are mercenaries of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, who under the guise of the sacred religion of Islam are attempting to turn Tajikistan into an arena for feudal wars," said Makhmadaliyev.

"Twenty-three soldiers, including some officers of the Ministry of Defence and the National Guards, were shot dead yesterday in Rasht valley," he said.

Tajikistan, a secular but mainly Muslim country which shares a porous 1,340-km (840-mile) border with Afghanistan, is battling growing Islamist radicalism and has imprisoned more than 100 members of banned groups this year alone.

The poorest of five former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Tajikistan is viewed with keen interest by both Russia and the United States because of its location in a strategically sensitive area.

Last week, Tajikistan said it had killed at least 20 Taliban fighters and lost one officer in a clash on the Afghan border.

Tens of thousands were killed in a 1992-97 civil war between factions reflecting overlapping political, religious and clan loyalties.

Bureau Report