Tbilisi City Court ordered on Wednesday pretrial detention for Aiuf Borchashvili, who was arrested on June 14 on charges of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group.
Three other men, who the prosecution claims were recruited by Borchashvili and were heading to Syria via Turkey to join the IS group, were also sent to pretrial detention.
The three men are Davit Pirisebia, 18; Giorgi Kuprava, 21, and Giorgi Khutunishvili, 23 – all residents of Tbilisi.
Borchashvili has been charged under the two separate clauses of the criminal code – one is article 3271, involving recruitment for a terrorist organization, carrying prison term from 5 to 10 years, and another one is article 328, involving “joining a terrorist organization of a foreign country or providing support to it in terrorist activities,” carrying a prison term from ten to 17 years. Borchashvili was arrested in the village of Gombori in eastern region of Kakheti.
Three other men have been charged under the 328 article of the criminal code.
Two of them were detained in the Tbilisi airport before departing to Turkey and the third one was detained separately also in the capital city.
All four men deny charges.
Borchashvili, 35, is from the village of Jokolo in the Pankisi gorge in northeastern Georgia, which is predominantly populated by the Muslim community of Kists.
Borchashvili, who describes himself as an imam in the Jokolo village, is an influential figure among local followers of the Salafi Islam, who are usually referred to as “Wahhabists” by the Georgian media, as well as by those locals in the Pankisi, who are followers of Sufi Islam tradition.
At a court session in Tbilisi on June 17, where the prosecution’s motion for pretrial detention was heard, prosecutors claimed that Borchashvili also recruited and sent two schoolboys from Pankisi gorge – one of them 16 years old – to Syria via Turkey in early April. Although radicalization trend in Pankisi is not a new development, the issue drew wide public attention after that case in April as it involved underage schoolboy.
The law enforcement agencies claim that Borchashvili is IS group’s “representative” in Georgia.
Prosecution’s case at this stage includes testimonies of up to 70 witnesses – one of them, who is believed to be a key and a direct witness allegedly linking Borchashvili with sending of underage schoolboy to Syria, is under witness protection. Part of the evidence has been classified as confidential by the prosecution.
Prosecutors told the judge that Borchashvili visited Turkey for multiple times and they believe that from there he also traveled to Syria as well.
Borchashvili told the judge that he visited Turkey for multiple times for unspecified “various businesses”, as well as for “religious” purposes, and stayed there with the help of donations from “Muslim brothers”.
The three other men told the judge that they were intending to arrive in Turkey not for the purpose to then travel to Syria, but for “religious studies” offered to them by an unspecified organization “free of charge”. They said that they bought airline tickets for one-way flight to Turkey with their own money.
Judge Larisa Liparteliani said that provided facts and information were sufficient to rule in favor of prosecution’s motion for a pretrial detention; she also said that if released on bail there would be a risk that the accused men might try to flee the country.
The judge also justified the decision in favor of pretrial detention by the need to prevent possible pressure on witnesses.
“When reading those testimonies one can notice a same pattern, when they [witnesses] try not to tell whole truth to investigators. I have an impression that everyone knows everything, but they are reluctant to speak out. Therefore I believe that it is important to isolate [the accused men] in order to prevent possible threat of already obtained evidence and to evidence, which [the prosecution] has yet to obtain,” the judge said.
Borchashvili’s defense lawyer, Gela Nikolaishvili, said that the case is based on “unfounded suppositions” and there was no reason for ordering pretrial detention of his client. He dismissed argument over possible pressure on witnesses as irrelevant, saying that out of 70 witnesses there was only one direct witness and the latter was already under witness protection and there was no way to pressure that witness even if someone had such intention. Nikolaishvili said that he would appeal the ruling to higher court.
Pretrial hearing, preceding trial upon the merits of the case, has been scheduled for August 5.