DUSHANBE (Reuters) - The death toll from Sunday’s attack by gunmen on a military column in Tajikistan has risen to 25 troops, the Defense Ministry said on Tuesday, denying media reports of higher losses.
On Monday the Defense Ministry said foreign Islamist militants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia’s Chechnya were responsible for the attack.
It denied the reports that Tajikistan had lost 40 of its troops and another 25 were missing, and asked journalists “to abstain from writing false and scandalous reports.”
“It is with deep sorrow that the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Tajikistan announces the death of two more servicemen last night,” the ministry said in a statement. It had earlier put the death toll at 23.
Tens of thousands of people were killed during a civil war in Tajikistan in the 1990s when the secular government fought against the Islamic opposition. A power-sharing peace deal formally put an end to the war in 1997.
The Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan, a major opposition force, issued a statement on Tuesday, accusing “internal and external enemies of the Tajik people who again want to sow the seeds of feud and enmity on the ancient land of Tajikistan.”
Condemning the attack on government troops, it said: “The country’s clergy, the followers of Islam must prove at this hour that our religion preaches peace, unity and creativity.”
Analysts say chronic poverty and a Soviet-style crackdown on religion is furthering the growth of radical Islam in Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia, a secular but mainly Muslim region wedged between Russia, Iran, Afghanistan and China.
Reporting by Roman Kozhevnikov; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov