After at first being barred from entry into Georgia and sent back to Turkey, a 29-year-old man from Pankisi gorge was deported again by Turkey back to Tbilisi where he was arrested by the State Security Service on suspicion of having links with a terrorist group in Syria.
The Georgian State Security Service said on November 22 that it arrested Davit Borchashvili under the article 328 of the criminal code involving “joining a foreign terrorist organization and/or providing support in terrorist activities.”
Borchashvili, according to his defense lawyer, admits traveling to Syria, but denies fighting for or having any links to the Islamic State or any other terrorist organization in Syria.
Borchashvili claims that he had “contacts” with the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, according to his defense lawyer.
Borchashvili is now in a hospital in Tbilisi for a medical treatment after complications from a seven-month old surgery he had to undergo after apparently sustaining a gunshot wound.
Borchashvili, a native of the village of Jokolo in the Pankisi gorge, predominantly populated by the Muslim community of Kists, arrived in Tbilisi accompanied by his mother from Istanbul on November 21. But, according to his relatives and lawyer, Borchashvili was barred from entry and was told in the Tbilisi airport, apparently by security officers, that he would have faced criminal charges in case of entry into the country. Borchashvili flew back to Istanbul, but from there he was deported back to Tbilisi where he was arrested by the Georgian security agency.
Public Defender’s Office, whose representative met Borchashvili on November 22, questioned the Georgian authorities’ decision to send Borchashvili, who is the Georgian citizen, back to Turkey a day earlier.
“Of course we have questions about reasons behind sending him back to the country, Turkey, which deported him,” said Deputy Public Defender, Paata Beltadze, adding that the ombudsman’s office will put these questions to relevant authorities.
Meanwhile undated video footage was uploaded on YouTube from an anonymous user account, created on November 21, purportedly showing Davit Borchashvili along with some other armed men riding in back of a pickup truck, which was part of a convoy driving in unidentified town; in the video it is seen, very briefly and sketchily, what looks like a flag, used by the Islamic State group, flown from the back of other pickup truck in the convoy.
Borchashvili’s defense lawyer, Gela Nikolaishvili, said that the man seen on the video is apparently Borchashvili.
“But it means nothing; it does not prove in any way that he was a member of a terrorist group; he had no links to any of the terrorist group whatsoever,” said Nikolaishvili, who met his client on Sunday evening.
“He [Borchashvili] does not deny traveling to Syria. He says that he was in Syria about one year ago and had certain contacts with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, which fights against both the Assad regime and the Islamic State,” he added.
Nikolaishvili is also a defense lawyer of Aiuf Borchashvili, who was arrested in June 2015, on charges of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group in Georgia.
Davit Borchashvili and Aiuf Borchashvili, who are not relatives, are from the same village of Jokolo in the Pankisi gorge, according to Nikolaishvili.
After being arrested, Davit Borchashvili required hospitalization.
A senior official at the hospital in Tbilisi, where Borchashvili is currently undergoing treatment, told journalists that about seven months ago, after sustaining a gunshot wound, Borchashvili underwent upper thigh endoprosthesis surgery.
“He now requires treatment because destructive infectious process is underway in the area where he had endoprosthesis [surgery],” Marina Gelantia, deputy head of the Gudushauri National Medical Center, said.
Dozens of Georgian nationals are fighting in Syria for 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.
At least nine Georgian citizens, natives of Pankisi gorge, died fighting for IS group in Syria.
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”.