Authorities in Tajikistan said Saturday that government troops have killed an elusive Islamist militant who has been the country's most-wanted insurgent for more than a decade.
Interior Ministry chief of staff Tokhir Normatov said that Abdullo Rakhimov, also known by his nom de guerre Mullo Abdullo, was killed along with 14 other militants in the Central Asian nation's eastern Rasht Valley in a military operation Friday.
The impoverished former Soviet nation serves as a link in supply routes for the NATO military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan, and reports on government success in battling Islamic militants will likely be greeted with relief in the West.
Images of Rakhimov's body were shown on state television on the evening news Saturday.
Authorities say militants led Rakhimov carried out last year's ambush on a military convoy in which at least 25 soldiers were killed.
The government announced Friday that they had killed at least ten militants in a military operation in which armored vehicles and aircraft were deployed, but declined to confirm whether Rakhimov was among the dead.
Tajikistan has been waging a concerted battle against remnants of the Islamist opposition since the end of the civil war in the 1990s.
Rakhimov was a top warlord during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war between President Emomali Rakhmon's secular government and his mostly Islamic opponents called the United Tajik Opposition.
While most members of the United Tajik Opposition signed a peace treaty with the government, a core of determined fighters refused to lay down their weapons and fled for safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Rakhimov is believed by Tajik authorities to have returned to Tajikistan around two years ago in a bid to mount a campaign of terror against the government.
Little is known about Rakhimov's activities and whereabouts since 1997. Reports surfaced in 2002 that he had been detained by Afghan authorities and was subsequently released.
Residents in the Rasht Valley say military operations have been intermittently taking place in the mountainous Tajikabad and Nurabad districts of the Rasht Valley for some months.
In January, authorities reported killing Islamist fighter Alovuddin Davlatov, who was also believed to be involved in the military convoy attack.
The success of these military operations appear to mark the culmination of government efforts to repair relations with important power brokers in the Rasht Valley, such as former warlord Mirzokhodzha Akhmadov.
Authorities said last year that they were seeking to arrest Akhmadov on suspicion of involvement in the military convoy attack.
Senior Tajik military officials have continued to sound the alarm over the possibility of violence spilling across their weakly defended border with Afghanistan.
They have expressed concern that the threat will only increase as U.S. troops gradually pull out of Afghanistan.