(TBILISI) -- A major anti-terror operation was launched by the State Security Service (SSS) late Tuesday night in the Tbilisi’ central Isani District.
Anti-Terror Operation Carried Out in Central Tbilisi
By Tea Mariamidze
Thursday, November 23
The SSS said one officer had been killed and three other officers injured in a 21-hour operation to apprehend unidentified members of a terrorist cell
One suspect has been arrested, while the fate of the other remains unknown.
The operation began when security forces were deployed near the apartment building.
Members of the SSS’ special operations unit evacuated residents from the surrounding area after gaining intelligence that the terror suspects were heavily armed with automatic rifles and explosives.
At just after 10:30 am on Wednesday, an explosion shattered the inside of the apartment, located on the third floor of the building. The suspects rejected negotiations with law enforcement officials before they began opening fire and throwing hand grenades at SSS members.
Initial media reports indicate that the two suspects are Chechens, however, no official comments have been made.
According to a report by Georgian media outlet, Rustavi-2, the owner of the flat where the suspected terrorists had been living, belongs to Tina Gaurgashvili resident of village Duisi in the Pankisi Gorge.
Gaurgashvili currently lives in Austria, according to her family members.
The vast majority of Pankisi's 10,000 residents are Chechens who settled in the isolated valley in the early 19th century. The region shares a porous border with volatile Chechnya and has acted as a base of operations for Chechen rebels fighting Russia since the mid-1990s.
Pankisi has recently been linked to the transit, training, recruitment and shipment of arms and volunteers to fight in Syria.
Militant Wahhabism has made major inroads with the local population, with dozens of young men and women disappearing from their families before remerging in Syria as volunteers for the myriad of radical Islamist groups fighting in that country’s bloody 6-year civil war.
ISIS’ former military commander, Abu Omar al-Shishani (born Timur Batirashvili), was an ethnic Chechen born and raised in the Pankisi village Birkiani.
According to the media, Gaurgashvili’s son, Aslanbek Jabraelov, has already been questioned by Georgian police
“As I know, the flat has been empty since May and no one lived there. We know nothing about the people who barricaded themselves in the flat,” Sara Gaurgashvili, the flat owner’s sister, told reporters.
Georgia’s opposition political parties criticized the ruling Georgian Dream government for the length of the operation, saying the SSS failed to identify the terror suspects before they managed to pose a threat.
The United States’ Ambassador to Georgia, Ian Kelly, commented on the incident, saying the safety of the area’s residents was of the utmost importance.
“We are carefully observing the developments and we hope the maximum safety measures are taken,” Kelly added.