|Three policemen died in Gori car explosion
on February 1, 2005. REUTERS photo.
He said that law enforcers arrested two suspects in the South Ossetian conflict zone. Merabishvili said that a third person with links to this explosion has also been arrested.
“According to our information, a year and half ago Russian GRU Colonel Anatoly Sisoev set up a sabotage squad, which according to our information was trained on the territory of Russia… This group carried out the terrorist act here in Gori,” Merabishvili said.
He said that the persons suspected of implementing this terrorist act - Gia Valiev and Gia Zasiev – were arrested on July 17 in, as he put it, “the Tskhinvali region” but the Minister did not specify the exact venue. Georgian officials refer to the South Ossetian conflict zone as “the Tskhinvali Region.”
Merabishvili said that the police also arrested Joseb Kochiev, who allegedly bought a car shortly before the terrorist act in which an explosive was detonated.
The Georgian Interior Minister also said that he met with Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Chkhikvishvili on July 25 regarding this case.
“I was very much honored today when I handed over to the Russian Ambassador and representatives of the Russian special services all the information [on the case] available for us,” the Georgian Interior Minister said.
Merabishvili also said that Georgian law enforcers know the identities of other members of the sabotage squad, which as the Minister said, was trained by Russian intelligences services.
“We have found out the identities of these persons, who are now wanted: These persons are: Andrey Zasiev, Valery Kozaev, Artur Kozaev, Alexandre Tskhovrebov, Aleksandre Bezhanov, Vladimer Pukhaev,” Merabishvili said.
He said that these persons are suspected of carrying out several acts of sabotage in the Shida Kartli region last year, including the explosion of the high-voltage power line Kartli II in October, 2004; the explosion of two towers of power lines in October 2004; the explosion of a railway in the Kaspi district in October 2004 and the explosion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline's radio transmission station in the Khashuri district in November, 2004.
“I want to express my hope that the Russian side will hand us over all those suspects, who planned and participated in this [Gori] and in other terrorist acts [in the Shida Kartli region],” Merabishvili said.
President Saakashvili met with Interior Minister Merabishvili and those officials of the counter-intelligence service, who were engaged in the investigation of the Gori blast and hailed them for capturing the suspects.
“Despite clear evidence that citizens of a foreign country participated in this [terrorist act] – and we have numerous facts and information to prove this – we do not want to use this information to create further confrontation. We do not want our relations with Russia to move in the direction of confrontation. We want to have absolute cooperation with Russia, with relevant Russian agencies and with the Russian government in the fight against terrorism. These people [terrorists] hit only Georgia, but they a huge problem for Russia itself,” President Saakashvili said.
The President said that Gori explosion has proved once again that “uncontrolled territories pose a threat.” “I want our citizens in this region [South Ossetia] to know that we do not want a large-scale confrontation. We are ready to solve everything through civilized dialogue,” Saakashvili said.
“But I want to warn the de facto authorities of Tskhinvali [capital of breakaway South Ossetia] to refrain from any kind of provocation. We will respond to provocations, but we want a peaceful dialogue,” Saakashvili said.
Russian authorities did not respond with an official statement to Merabishvili’s allegations. But the Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted unnamed source, described by the agency as Russian Defense Ministry’s top-level official as saying: “The statement by Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili about the involvement of the intelligence administration of the Russian General Staff in organizing sabotage on Georgian territory is not true.”
“This is a clear provocation, which reflects the Georgian authorities’ unfriendly stance towards Moscow. The persons named by Merabishvili have never served in the Russian army,” the Russian Defense Ministry’s unnamed official added.
In a phone interview with Rustavi 2 television, Special Affairs Minister of breakaway South Ossetia described the statement of the Georgian Interior Minister as “a lie.”
Influential Georgian parliamentarian Givi Targamadze, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security, said at a news conference on July 25, that the investigation of the Gori blast has proved that “Russia is directly involved in Georgia’s internal conflicts.”
“It has also proved that Russia is directly engaged in training and preparing groups of saboteurs, which consist, according to our information, of up to approximately 120 men,” Targamadze said.
After the terrorist act in Gori on February 1, President Mikheil Saakashvili made a statement and blamed Georgia’s “enemies” and “forces against peace” for the car bomb explosion. But Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania have both rejected a South Ossetian link to this terrorist act.