Although Georgia is not among the countries with a high risk of terror attacks, the security agency “treats seriously” all the possible threats, including through heightened security measures and close cooperation with partner nations, Deputy Head of Georgia’s State Security Service, Levan Izoria, said.
After the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, the Georgian State Security Service announced about tightening security at airports, borders and facilities of “strategic importance” as a precautionary measure.
The Georgian PM’s office said on Monday that the Security and Crisis Management Council will hold a meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss “security issues.”
Also after the Paris attacks, a written statement published on November 9 by at least two Georgian-language pro-Islamic State group websites captured Georgian media sources’ attention. The statement is attributed to a 56-year-old Murman Paitchadze, aka Abu Asya al-Jurji, who was a local Muslim cleric from a small village of Kokhta in Tsalka municipality in Kvemo Kartli region, and who left for Turkey about two months ago, according to his family members in Georgia. The statement, titled Murman Paitchadze’s “address from the Islamic caliphate” says: “You infidels… why don’t you withdraw your troops from Muslim countries… Await the response of the Muslims, which will be very severe.”
“Of course we take seriously all the threats, related to Georgia, voiced publicly by terrorists,” Deputy Head of the Georgian State Security Service, Levan Izoria, said in an interview with the Tbilisi-based Maestro TV late on November 16. “We have high level of mobilization with high degree of responsibility in order to prevent threats and risks.”
Asked if Georgia is among “countries with a high risk of terror attacks”, Izoria responded: “That’s not the case.”
“As you know the main targets in this regard are those countries, which are carrying out air strikes against so called Islamic State,” he said.
“However, it does not allow us to be relaxed and it does not mean that we should treat the risk at lower or medium level. We treat all the statement, threat seriously, therefore our approach is the same as the high risk requires,” Izoria said.
“Those threats give us reason to react, but they are no reasons for panic. We control the situation,” he added.
He said that Georgia is closely cooperating with its western partners, as well as with some of its neighbors, including through sharing intelligence.
“Based on information provided by Georgia to [the Azerbaijani side], an Azerbaijani citizen was arrested yesterday [November 15] in Balakan in Azerbaijan [bordering with Georgia], who was trying to illegally cross into Georgia for the purpose of going to Syria to join the Islamic State group,” he Izoria.
“The Azerbaijani side reacted promptly on the information provided by us and this person was arrested,” he added.
“We have prevented entry of dozens of foreign citizens into Georgia, including from African and Arab countries, who were trying to use Georgia as a transit to arrive in Turkey at first and then in Syria. In those cases we are being guided by a list, which includes thousands of people, provided by our strategic partners – that includes not only those who are active terrorists, but also potential terrorists. We do not let such people to enter into Georgia, we send them back,” Izoria said and added that more than 30 citizens of Somalia were barred from entry into Georgia.
Asked on Georgian-language pro-Islamic State group websites, Izoria said that the State Security Service has been “investigating” those websites, but was not taking steps to block access to those websites because it wanted to gather enough relevant information and evidence to build the case. He said that the State Security Service now intends to file a motion with the court requesting blocking of those websites. First post on one of those websites is dated with April and on another one with May, 2015. One of those websites uses WordPress platform.
“We now have enough ground to launch prosecution of certain individuals,” he said, but declined to elaborate details; he also did respond when asked whether those websites are administered from within Georgia or outside the country.
U.S. Department of State’s recent annual Country Report on Terrorism released in June says that the Georgian government is largely capable of countering terrorism and it continues “robust engagement” with the U.S. over range of counterterrorism issues, but there are “continuing concerns about Georgia as a transit and source country for international terrorism”.
Dozens of Georgian nationals, mostly from the Pankisi gorge and Adjara, are fighting in Syria and Iraq for either al Qaeda affiliates or the Islamic State (IS) group, among them a senior IS group commander Tarkhan Batirashvili, known as Omar al-Shishani, who is a native of the Pankisi gorge.
On June 14, 2015 Georgia’s counter-terrorism unit arrested Aiuf Borchashvili, a native of the Pankisi gorge, on suspicion of recruiting fighters for the IS group. Three other men, residents of Tbilisi, allegedly recruited by Borchashvili, have also been arrested. All four men are in pre-trial detention and trial into their case is expected to launch this month.