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Georgia’s Interior Ministry Arrests Five Allegedly Linked to ISIS

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, December 27
(TBILISI) – Just over a month after carrying out an operation in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, which resulted in the death of a top ISIS commander, Georgia’s police force engaged in an exchange of gunfire that ended with five individuals being taken into custody for their alleged links to Akhmed Chatayev – a Chechen-born Islamic State Commander killed in November raid.

The latest raid took place early Tuesday and left one of the five suspects wounded. A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry later identified the group as Zurab Gornakashvili, Ruslan Aldamov, Ramaz Margoshvili, Badur Chopanashvili and Temirlan Machalikashvili.

Machalikashvili is reported to be in a stable condition after suffering from a gunshot wound when he attempted to throw a hand grenade at the police officers.

The five are believed to be part of a larger terrorist cell that was headed by Chatayev. Two members of the group were killed in the November 21-22 raid in Tbilisi.

According to the spokeswoman of Interior Ministry Nino Giorgobiani, police officials seized several computers belonging to the suspects. The data collected from hard drives revealed that members of the cell were planning attacks against diplomats in Georgia and Turkey.

The Interior Ministry believes the group crossed Georgia from Turkey via the Kirnati-Maradidi passport-free zone and later, made their way to Tbilisi and to the Pankisi Valley, a region near the border with Chechnya and populated by Muslim ethnic Chechens.

The families of the suspects deny the accused had any ties to Chatayev or to ISIS.

The Georgian government recently identified the suspects involved in the November shootout that took place in a residential neighbourhood in the outskirts of Tbilisi.

According to the State Security Service, Shoaip Borziyev, a Chechen wanted by Interpol on terrorism charges was taken into custody by police on November 22. His two accomplices – Chechnya natives Ibrahim Adashev and Aslanbeg Soltakhmadov – were killed in the raid alongside Chatayev.

Chatayev was listed as a terrorist by the United States for planning attacks against US and Turkish facilities in 2015.

Born in Vedeno - the same town as a notorious Chechen militant Shamil Basayev - Chatayev was a battle hardened veteran of the 1999-2001 Second Chechen War, where he lost an arm fighting the Russian troops. He later fled to Austria and is believed to have helped recruit and finance volunteers to join Doku Umarov, Basayev’s successor, and help carve out an Islamic state in the North Caucasus.

Chatayev was later arrested on several occasions, including in Sweden and Ukraine, for weapons possession and suspected links to terrorist groups.

Following his arrest in Ukraine, he was deported to Georgia where he took up refuge in the same home village where Tarkhan Batirashvili grew up. Batirashvili, the Chechen native of Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, gained international attention as ISIS’ main field commander using his nom de guerre, Abu Omar al-Shishani.

While in Pankisi, Chatayev was picked up by Georgia’s security services during a 2012 anti-terror operation near Georgia’s border with the North Caucasus region Dagestan. Acting as a go-between for the Georgian government and the Chechen militants holed up in a mountain compound, Chatayev later switched sides and joined the armed terror group.

He lost his leg in the ensuing raid, but was later released after prosecutors determined there was little evidence to try him for terrorist activities.

By 2015, several local media outlets identified Chatayev as having joined ISIS in Syria.

In summer of 2016, Turkish law enforcers named Chatayev as a mastermind of a terrorist act in the Ataturk Airport claiming 48 lives and leaving more than 200 injured.