Kyrgyzstan’s security forces said on Saturday Islamist “international terrorists” had launched a raid on its border that left 13 people dead.
An interior ministry spokesman said the guerrillas, most of whom were killed after being surrounded by special forces on Friday, seemed to have been probing the defences of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The armed group from Kyrgyzstan ransacked two Tajik border posts, killing five border guards, hijacking a car and seizing weapons.
Kyrgyz special forces later surrounded them inside Kyrgyzstan, killing four and capturing one. Four servicemen were killed in the clash.
The special forces seized two barrels of aluminium powder, which is used in explosives, a sniper rifle and machineguns.
Kyrgyzstan has been plagued by violence and instability since a revolt last year overthrew President Askar Akayev, but has not so far seen a resurgence in attacks from Islamist militant groups who frequently battled police in 1999-2000.
The return of Islamist guerrillas is likely to be seen as a significant development in a country that is host to both Russian and U.S. military bases.
“Of course these were international terrorists. We found religious literature, 13 sleeping bags. There were Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik citizens,” the ministry spokesman said.
New Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, elected last July, has largely failed to maintain order amid calls from the West to crack down on criminal gangs.
“We cannot rule out a repeat of such an event by other criminal groups,” said a statement from the border guards.
“Terrorist acts have been prevented. The components for explosives have been seized.”
The motive for the attacks was not clear. The mountainous border area is one of the main transit routes for drug smuggling from Afghanistan and has in the past been described by governments as a base for Islamist extremists.
The attacks took place in the Tajik and Kyrgyz parts of the Ferghana Valley, which is shared between Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Islamists want to turn the valley into an Islamic state.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) launched incursions into the same region of Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan in the late 1990s and a Tajik source linked Friday’s attackers to the movement.
“According to our information, the attackers were from the IMU and planned attacks in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan,” said a commander in the Tajik border guards.