Inmates flee Tajik prison, kill guards in gunfight
* At least 25 armed prisoners escape, five guards killed
* Inmates had been accused of plotting coup
* President orders security forces to launch pursuit
By Roman Kozhevnikov
DUSHANBE, Aug 23 (Reuters) - More than two dozen prisoners, including organisers of an alleged coup plot, escaped on Monday from a detention centre in the capital of Tajikistan after a bloody shootout and are being pursued by security forces.
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon has ordered a manhunt for 25 or more armed fugitives, who authorities say killed at least five guards while breaking out of the prison in the Central Asian state and then fled towards the Afghan border. Sources within the security services told Reuters the escaped prisoners included citizens of Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Russia who were among those sentenced last week on accusations of organising a coup in the former Soviet republic. "We have sent a request to our colleagues in Russia and Afghanistan, asking for help in finding and detaining the prisoners who broke out today," Kasim Gafarov, first deputy head of the State Committee for National Security, told reporters. Governments in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia are clamping down on what they see as growing radicalism in the predominantly Muslim, though secular, region after a rise in clashes between security forces and armed gangs.
Tajikistan, which shares a porous 1,340-km (840-mile) border with Afghanistan, has imprisoned more than 100 members of banned groups this year alone, including 36 members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and 25 members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Dressed in camouflage, the prisoners fled in the direction of Afghanistan after breaking out in the early hours of Monday morning. The security committee, Tajikistan's successor to the KGB, said in a statement it had sent a team in pursuit.
Sources said the fugitives were among the 46 people to whom Tajikistan's Supreme Court last week handed down long jail terms on accusations they had planned to overthrow the authorities.
They included four Afghan citizens and six Russians from the Caucasus republics of Dagestan and Chechnya.
All were originally arrested in July 2009 in eastern Tajikistan, the scene of fierce civil war battles in the 1990s. The Russians were sentenced to between 19 and 30 years and the others received terms ranging from 10 years to life.
A high-ranking source within the security committee said armoured vehicles and manpower had been sent in the direction of Tavildara, the region in the Pamir mountains only 20 km (13 miles) from the Afghan border where the accused were arrested. (Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by Noah Barkin)
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