The messenger logo

5 arrested in Pankisi on charges of Islamic State membership

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Thursday, August 26
The counter-Terrorism Center of the State Security Service gas detained 5 Georgian citizens during a special operation in the Kakheti, Pankisi region on 24th of August. Allegedly, young men have joined the ranks of the terrorist organization ‘Islamic State’ and planned to leave for a terrorist camp in Syria. 3 young people aged 18 to 20 have been detained in the village of Koreti, and 2 people have been picked up in the village of Duisi.

“As a proof of loyalty, they had taken the oath of allegiance (bay’ah) to the current leader of the Islamic State and spread video footage featuring the oath among persons with “links to terrorists. The members of the group openly expressed their support for the terrorist organization and systematically demonstrated terrorist symbols while moving in the streets,” the State Security Service said in a statement.

According to the agency, the leader of the support group of the terrorist organization was identified, who openly stated that he was a representative of the extremist organization and “emir of Georgia” and helped above-mentioned suspects join the ranks of IS. The agency reported that they periodically held conspiratorial meetings and discussed the ongoing processes in Syria-Iraq and future plans for Georgia.

The families of the detainees exclude their children from links to terrorism and do not agree with the accusation made by the State Security Service.

Lia Tsikhesashvili, the mother of 19-year-old Hamzat Baghakashvili, one of the detainees in the village of Koreti, told RFE/RL that a special operation was carried out at their home at 7:00 a.m. when her son was returning home from a village mosque. According to her, her son went to Turkey a month ago to pick tea, worked a total of three weeks and came back. “Other times Hamzat is herding sheep in the village, how could he have anything to do with terrorism? We do not have any versions of what could be connected with the arrest of him and 3 other villagers, ” said the mother of detainee Hamzat Bagakashvili.

Family members of detainees in Duis do not contact the media. Tamila Kavtarashvili, the mother of another person arrested in Koreti, Ramaz Margoshvili, also categorically denies her son's connection to terrorism.

A local in Pankisi, Malkhaz Machalikashvili, whose 19-year-old son Temirlan Machalikashvili was killed in a counter-terrorism operation back in 2017, connects the arrest of 5 people in Pankisi with the upcoming self-government elections. He says that before each election, dozens of people are detained in the gorge and then their family members are forced to vote for the Georgian Dream in the elections.

According to preliminary information, the investigation is underway under Article 327 of the Criminal Code, which stipulates membership in a terrorist organization, participation in the activities of a terrorist organization, creation or leadership of a terrorist organization, foreseeing imprisonment for a term of 10 to 12 years. The investigation is being conducted by the Counter-Terrorism Center of the State Security Service.

One of the detainees is charged under 2 articles of the Criminal Code - membership of a terrorist organization and aiding and abetting membership in a terrorist organization, while the rest are charged only with membership.

As the lawyer Ana Liluashvili told journalists, several volumes of case materials were handed over to the defense.