Georgia’s Intelligence Service Arrests Pankisi Resident for Suspected Terror Sympathies

TBILISI - Georgia’s Counterterrorism Center announced on Saturday that it had arrested a young Georgian citizen for posting threatening message on Facebook using a fake account.

According the State Security Service, 23-year-old Vakhtang Khangoshvili was detained on Friday after posting a message on a social media that allegedly threatened a terrorist attack in Tbilisi.

Khangoshvili is a resident of Duisi, a village in the isolated Pankisi Gorge inhabited Muslim Chechens.

Located on the border between Georgia and Russia’s restive republic of Chechnya, the Pankisi Gorge has in recent years become known as the home of several prominent ISIS fighters. The most notable was the ginger-bearded Tarkhan Batirashvili, who gained international attention as ISIS’ top field commander under his Arabic nom de guerre, Omar al-Shishani - Abu Omar the Chechen. After leading ISIS to several stunning battlefield victories, Shishani was killed in a massive American drone strike in March.

In a post that appeared on Facebook under the pseudonym Dau Levsky, the user posted an image of a massive explosion with a short message in Russian saying, “Tomorrow at 12:30, in Tbilisi will be fireworks”.

Screenshot of the Facebook.

The user also posted image of Batirashvili alongside the explosion.

“Following our investigation, on July 29 the detainee attempted to distribute information that contained terrorist threats though Facebook under the username – Dau Levsky. The Counterterrorism Center, under the direction of the State Security Service of Georgia, immediately launched an investigation into the incident. If found guilty, the suspect could face up to 11 years in prison,” the Security Service said Iin an official statement released to the media.

According the Security Services, Khangoshvili’s vehicle and flat have been searched, though no information has been released regarding their findings.

Pankisi, home to more than 10,000 ethnic Chechens living in a scattering of isolated mountain villages in Georgia’s eastern Akhmeta district, has been a stronghold of age-old mountain traditions associated with the Chechen clans known as teips.

After Russia waged two brutal wars to end Chechnya’s drive for independence in the 1990s, thousands of Chechen refugees were resettled in Pankisi with their ethnic and religious kin.

The bleak situation in the valley has led to a rise of radical Islamist movements among its younger population, particularly in the number of those who reject the Chechens’ traditional moderate form of Sufism in favor of an extremist brand of Saudi Arabian-style Salafism.

As fundamentalist Islamic teachings have gained traction among Pankisi’s youth, militant fighters like Shishani have become local heroes.

The shift away from the traditional Chechen brand of Sufism – seen by most in the population as paramount to their national identity – has caused a major rift with the community’s elders and religious leaders.

By Tamar Svanidze

Edited by Nicholas Waller

30 July 2016 20:20