Irakli Chimakadze, Chief of the Counter-Terrorism Center of the State Security Service, Georgia’s domestic intelligence service, gave an exclusive interview to weekly newspaper Kviris Palitra on November 19, speaking among others on details of the November 2017 shootout in Tbilisi and plans of the senior ISIS member Ahmed Chatayev.
Chimakadze told the newspaper that the Security Service had been following Chatayev’s footsteps since 2015, after he issued a threat to the Georgian authorities over the arrest of Aiuf Borchashvili, a resident of Georgia’s Muslim-majority Pankisi gorge, who was detained in June 2015 on charges of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group.
According to Chimakadze, Georgian security operatives last recorded Chatayev in Syria in 2016, but lost track of him since then. “We were closely cooperating with our strategic partners and we knew that Chatayev, who was considered one of the ideologues of the Islamic State, had planned attacks in numerous countries, including Georgia, but that we would have found him in Tbilisi, was completely unimaginable,” he noted.
Chatayev was killed during the shootout with counter-terrorist officers in Tbilisi on November 21-22, 2017. One gunman was captured and two more were killed as a result of the fighting. The operation claimed the life of one security officer.
Seven Georgian citizens were arrested for rendering various services to the Chatayev group. The eighth – 18-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili – was shot dead during the detention operation in December 2017. Machalikashvili’s family denies the charges.
Chimakadze added that the Counter-Terrorism Center had held “operative information” that Chatayev plotted terrorist acts “in various countries in Europe, including in Georgia.” This, according to Chimakadze, was confirmed by his audio addresses, where he reportedly spoke on carrying our terrorist acts in “crowded, tourist places” in Georgia and Turkey.
Asked whether their target was the Junior Eurovision song contest held in Tbilisi on November 26, 2017, Chimakadze said: “I cannot rule out that we might have faced a danger there, it’s quite possible that the group could have burst into any building – possibly, thinking to do something that would have shaken not only Georgia, but also Europe.”
Chimakadze also spoke on the connections of the Islamic State to Georgia, saying the Counter-Terrorism Center perceived the group’s emergence “as a great threat” to the country, and responded with active counter-measures, including with criminalizing membership and support to a terrorist organization in 2014. “It is a fact that there has not been a terrorist act in Georgia and this to a great extent is a result of our work,” he said.
According to Chimakadze, the estimated number of Georgians fighting for various terrorist groups in Syria stands at 15 persons, a significant decline compared to the 2015 figure of 50 fighters. Chimakadze says 43 Georgian citizens have died since the outbreak of hostilities.
Chimakadze also touched upon the case of Temirlan Machalikashvili, saying the Center had “well-founded evidence” on his ties with the Chatayev group, including a call to his cell phone, bank transfers to his account and cell phone contracts that he concluded for terror group members. Chimakadze also noted that Machalikashvili’s SMS history showed that he “sympathized with suicide terrorists and was apparently ready to do the same at some point.”