Four men have been arrested on suspicion of having links with the Islamic State group, the Georgian State Security Service said on Tuesday.
Arrests were made on November 29 after counter-terrorist unit carried out search of eleven houses, Levan Izoria, the Deputy Head of the State Security Service said on December 1 without giving locations of either where arrests were made or houses searched.
The announcement appears to be a confirmation by the State Security Service of earlier reports by the Georgian media outlets.
News about the arrests first emerged on November 29, when Rustavi 2 TV reported that a 23-year-old man was arrested in the village of Nasakirali in Ozurgeti municipality of Guria region in western Georgia over alleged links to the Islamic State group. Some other Georgian media sources also reported same day that three other men, two of them from the same village, were also arrested on suspicion of having links with the Islamic State group.
Deputy Head of the State Security Service, Levan Izoria, said that the counter-terrorism unit has been carrying out investigation under the clause of criminal code dealing with “participation of mercenaries in armed conflicts.”
“As part of this investigation, information has been obtained identifying several individuals, who support Islamic State ideology,” Izoria said, adding that court warrant on carrying out search of eleven houses was obtained on November 18.
“Search was carried out at all those locations on November 29. As a result hand-grenade grenades, pistols, bullets and cylinder-shaped explosive devices were found in houses of four persons. Mobile phones, SIM cards from various mobile operators, memory cards, computers, internet modems and notebook computers, various literature, CDs and DVDs and Islamic State group’s flags were also seized,” Izoria said.
Relatives of two arrested men in Nasakirali village told Rustavi 2 TV that firearm and Islamic State flags were “planted” by the law enforcement officers during the search of their houses. At least two out of four Georgian men, who appeared on Islamic State group’s Georgian-language propaganda video, released on November 23, were also residents of the Nasakirali village.
Two of the men arrested on November 29 are relatives of the two men, who appear on the propaganda video.
The four men, arrested on November 29, have been charged under the second part of article 236, involving illegal possession of firearms and explosives, according to the State Security Service.
“Investigative measures are ongoing to substantiate that the arrested persons have links with the Islamic State and that they were providing assistance in terrorism activities,” the Deputy Head of the State Security Service said. “Further investigation is also ongoing to expose and prosecute other individuals with links to terrorist organizations.”
Tbilisi City Court ordered pre-trial detention for the four men at a hearing, held behind the closed doors on Tuesday; the prosecution has classified the case as secrete.
Defense lawyers of the arrested men said that their clients deny charges and claim that arms were “planted” by the law enforcement officers.
In June, 2015 a resident of Georgia’s Pankisi gorge, Aiuf Borchashvili, was arrested on charges of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group. Three other men, residents of Tbilisi, were also arrested, who the prosecution claims were recruited by Aiuf Borchashvili and were about to leave for Turkey to then go to Syria to join the Islamic Group. The four men deny charges; trial is currently ongoing in the Tbilisi City Court.
Davit Borchashvili, also a native of Pankisi gorge, was arrested late last month by the Georgian State Security Service on suspicion of fighting for Islamic State group in Syria. Davit Borchashvili, who is now in pre-trial detention, denies fighting for the Islamic State, and says that he traveled to Syria where he had links with the Free Syrian Army.