TBILISI, DFWatch–Locals in Pankisi Gorge in northeast Georgia demand the return of two boys who allegedly went to Syria to join Islamc State.
The Council of Elders, an informal mediation body in Pankisi, on Monday met to discuss what to do after Muslim Kushtanashvili, 16, and Ramzan Baghakashvili, 18, left Georgia on April 2, apparently in order to join the Islamic State fighters.
Council head Khaso Khangoshvili told DF Watch that people want the government to instruct law enforcement bodies to everything they can to get the two boys back to Georgia.
During the council session, which was also attended by locals, agreement was reached to ask the government to have stricter control and do more to prohibit youth from going to Syria.
Also on Monday, locals protested in the village Duisi, in Pankisi, about letting a minor leave the country. According to the locals, there are now more than 100 Pankisi youth fighting for Islamic State.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs confirmed that the two in fact did cross the border on April 2. The ministry’s general inspection is investigating why the border police allowed a minor to cross the border. According to the ministry, the two left Tbilisi by plane for Turkey. The government is working together with authorities in Turkey in order to find out more about what happened to the two.
Pankisi elders say there is ‘a group’ in their valley recruiting youth to go to Syria, and demand that this activity is stopped.
Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri said Monday that the border guard didn’t act ‘properly’ when letting a 16-year-old cross the border. He said the border guard thought the boy didn’t look like a minor and didn’t suspect his age.
“But it doesn’t justify his decision,” the minister said. “We are cooperating with Turkish special services to return the kid home. We are working on that of course.”
Education Minister Tamar Sanikidze said law enforcement bodies should investigate and identify who is influencing young people and forcing them to leave for Syria.