Georgian police cordoned off a mountain gorge to launch a large-scale operation against groups of kidnappers who reportedly infiltrated the country from the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan.
The area was previously known as a hotbed of terrorism when Georgian authorities granted refuge and support to all anti-Russian forces.
The operation was conducted by an estimated 200 police officers with the support of helicopters, Georgian media reported. Some ten ambulance vans were also witnessed in the area. Later in the day, eleven members of the illegal armed group were killed in a gunfight and several more were wounded, the police press service reported.
Three policemen were killed and five were wounded in the operation. The report also revealed that police managed to free the hostages taken by as-yet-unidentified terrorists.
The battle erupted after Georgian authorities spent three days searching for five young locals who went missing while hiking through a forest near the Georgian-Russian border. The youths’ relatives suggested that they could have been kidnapped, and requested that the police launch their search operation. The search resulted in discovery of an armed gang and eventually a fight, but luckily all hostages were freed.
Georgian television showed a brief video of two men who had been freed, who said that they had been stopped and held by a group of about 15 men dressed in combat fatigues and armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers. The men added that all of their kidnappers wore beards – an identifying trait of radical Islamists.
The police claimed that the armed group infiltrated Georgia from Russian territory, but Russian border guards said that they had not recorded any incidents on the border over the past few days, claiming that the report must therefore be a provocation on the part of Georgian.
The incident took place in the mountains of Northern Georgia – a territory where the country’s special services had previously encountered criminals, including members of the so-called ‘Government of Ichkeria’ – armed Chechen separatists who conduct terrorist attacks and are known for their religious slogans.
Earlier this summer, a former representative of the group, Khizri Aldamov, alleged to the press that he and his associates had received extensive support in Georgia. The man, who has recently returned to Russia's internal republic of Chechnya and publicly apologized for his past actions, said that the aid had been given for many years, and that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili had ordered the creation of the ‘Ichkerian government in exile’ in the hopes of granting the terrorists semi-legal status.
“Many terrorists attacks that were committed on Russian territory, in particular on the territory of the Chechen Republic, originated in Georgia,” RIA Novosti quotedAldamov as saying.
The ex-terrorist claimed that President Saakashvili personally held secret meetings with Akhyad Idigov, the former chairman of the ‘Parliament of Ichkeria’ who now lives in France. “Saakashvili and Georgian special services are taking steps to create the new so called Ichkerian government in order to apply pressure on Russia and to activate the terrorist groups in the Chechen Republic,” he said.
Aldamov alleged that the participants seek to create the so called Pankisi Jamaat – a radical Islamist state on the territory of Pankisi Gorge, a Georgian region historically populated by Chechens. He personally opposed the creation of the jamaat, for which his former associates attempted to kill him, he said.
Aldamov also claimed that he wanted to spend the rest of his life in his native Chechnya, helping his people.
Russian officials previously reported numerous attempts by terrorists to infiltrate Russian territory from the Pankisi region. They were often detained or killed, and Russian police claimed they found documents proving that Georgia granted asylum to the terrorists. Terrorists were also apprehended while carrying residence permits for western European countries like France and Austria.