Asia Crisis

Tajikistan says it smashes gang linked to Taliban

DUSHANBE, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Tajikistan said on Wednesday its security forces had destroyed "an armed terrorist gang" with links to Afghanistan's Taliban, after a string of gunbattles near the Afghan border.

The Central Asian state first reported clashes with the militants in early July when they attacked a police checkpoint. It said it had since killed 11 militants and detained 30 men.

"The group led by Islamist Nemat Azizov has been destroyed completely," Interior Ministry spokesman Makhmadullo Asadulloyev told reporters.

Authorities said earlier Azizov, killed last month in a special operation, had also been a member of the larger Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group which fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Fighting last month was centred around the town of Tavildara, which was the stronghold of Islamic opposition during the civil war that broke out in Tajikistan in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mirzo Ziyoyev, a former warlord who joined the government but then switched sides again, died in one of the clashes.

Tajikistan's Central Asian neighbours Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have also blamed the IMU, previously believed to be inactive, for clashes in recent months. (Reporting by Roman Kozhevnikov; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Andrew Roche)