Tajik Gunmen Led by Deputy Minister Fight Police, Killing 17

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Gunmen led by a deputy defense minister attacked government and police buildings in the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, killing eight policemen and nine assailants.

The armed group stormed the Defense Ministry in Dushanbe, the capital, after seizing weapons there, and also raided a police station outside the city, the Interior Ministry said Friday. Abdukhalim Nazarzoda, a militant turned deputy defense minister, led the assaults, it said. Nazarzoda, who police said remains at large, was fired by presidential order.

Tajikistan, a predominantly Muslim country of 8 million people, borders China and Afghanistan, where the fundamentalist Taliban movement is battling the U.S.-backed government. It’s struggled with unrest since the end of a five-year civil war between government forces and Islamic groups in 1997. Much of its population relies on money from family members working in Russia, whose economy is slumping amid sanctions and tumbling oil prices.

“On the morning of Sept. 4, armed gunmen clashed with Tajik police in separate incidents in the city of Dushanbe,” the U.S. Embassy said on its website. “Although the significance of these events is unclear, they may be precursors to other acts of violence.”

The embassy closed, warning its citizens to stay indoors because armed militants were roaming the city. While Russia’s remained open, it tightened security measures, the state-run RIA Novosti news service reported. Russia’s military base in Tajikistan is functioning as normal, Interfax said, citing a defense official in Dushanbe.

Some of the gunmen were detained, according the Interior Ministry. An operation to apprehend a group still under Nazarzoda’s command is continuing, it said.

The attackers had numbered as many as 135 when the assaults began, RIA Novosti reported, citing an unidentified person at the nation’s Interior Ministry.