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Georgian Terror Probe Escalates After Teenager’s Death

The fallout from the most recent Georgian anti-terror raid continues amid accusations of excessive police violence, and conflicting narratives. 

10 January 2018

An 18-year-old terror suspect died this morning in custody from head wounds sustained while being detained by Georgia’s counter-terrorism forces at the end of December, Civil.ge reports.

 

Temirlan Machalikashvili, a Georgian citizen, was shot in the head during an anti-terror operation on 26 December in Georgia’s northeastern Pankisi Gorge.

 

The Georgian Security Service (SSG) says that he was fired upon after he attempted to detonate a hand grenade during the operation. But Machalikashvili’s family rejects this story, and says that the teenager was asleep when the officers entered his room and opened fire, writes Civil.ge.

 

Temirlan Machalikashvili was injured during an anti-terror raid in Pankisi Gorge. Image : Pankisivalley.wordpress.com

 

Machalikashvili’s family and lawyers have since denied his involvement in terror-related activities, and say that his right to the presumption of innocence was violated when the SSG released footage of him, identifying individuals accompanying Machalikashvili as ISIS members.

 

The public response to the shooting was swift. Amid accusations of excessive force, Georgia’s prosecutor has opened an investigation into the incident. “The case will determine how Tbilisi polices domestic terror for years to come,” EurasiaNet writes, citing analysts.

 

On 27 December, the Pankisi Union of Elders, an informal body that arbitrates conflicts in the area, released a brief statement cited by Civil.ge, saying they were “closely watching the recent developments concerning the security forces operation.”

“We unanimously agree that it is the government’s task to establish order in the country, and in this context nobody is against the implemented measures, but we are dissatisfied with the forms and the methods that led to the gravest condition of Temirlan Machalikashvili,” the Union’s statement said. 

 

The raid in Pankisi Gorge resulted in four other suspects’ arrests on charges of assisting the group of militants, including ISIS member Ahmed Chatayev, who fought against Georgian security forces on 21-22 November in Tbilisi.

 

Chatayev died during the November raid, along with two other gunmen and a Georgian security officer.

 

On 6 January, the SSG released further details about the ongoing investigation into Chatayev’s case, saying the agency had evidence proving the connection between the five suspects detained on 26 December – including Machalikashvili – and a group of foreign terror suspects, who allegedly plotted attacks on diplomatic missions in Georgia and Turkey, reports Civil.ge.

 

 

  • One day before Machalikashvili’s death, the SSS detained another suspect in connection with the raids on 21-22 November and 26 December, reports Civil.ge. According the official reports, Zurab Gornakashvili traveled to the northeastern Turkish city of Hopa, and drove members of Chatayev’s group to the Kirnati-Maradidi section of the Turkish-Georgian border.

 

  • Chatayev was an ISIS operative who masterminded the Istanbul Ataturk Airport bombings in 2016.

 

  • The November Tbilisi raid was also controversial and sparked accusations that information was improperly withheld from the public, writes EurasiaNet.

 

  • In the past, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has rejected Russian claims that the Islamic State was using the Pankisi Gorge as a training base. Thousands of Chechens fled to the gorge during the two Russian-Chechen wars. Chechen and Arab militants have been accused of using the area as a safe haven for launching insurgent strikes into Russian territory.

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont

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