According to police, a foe of Tajikistan’s authoritarian leadership was slain in the restive east of the ex-Soviet republic after protests caused deadly skirmishes between state forces and local population in the region bordering Afghanistan and China.
Mamadbokir Mamadbokirov was killed “as a result of internal clashes of criminal groups”, according to an interior ministry statement carried by the state information agency Khovar, which described Mamadbokirov as the “leader of a criminal group” in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.
Mamadbokirov, an influential figure in the area, was a key target for the government in an “anti-terror operation” in the region announced Wednesday after protests that included demands for the governor to step down.
While authorities have blamed Mamadbokirov’s death on criminal gang fights, that explanation is likely to be viewed with scepticism by the population of a region the government has long sought to bring to heel.
Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, commonly known by its Soviet-era acronym GBAO, has been a periodic flashpoint since the end of a five-year civil war in the 1990s.
Mamadbokirov and other influential leaders in the region fought against the government during that conflict but were integrated into the state structures as part of the peace deal that Russia helped broker.
According to media reports, Mamadbokirov served in the state border service at one point after the war but has not held a government post in recent years.
This week’s clashes claimed the lives of eight men described by the government as “militants” and one security officer, the interior ministry said, although unofficial accounts suggest a higher death toll.
The violence was the most serious flare-up in the region since 2012, when dozens died during an army operation there.
Following the skirmishes, police reported 114 “members of a terrorist group” were captured in sweeps, with another eight members of the gang still at large.