Aiuf Borchashvili, a native of the Pankisi gorge, has been arrested on charges of allegedly recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.
The ministry said that two other men recruited by Borchashvili were arrested in Tbilisi airport on their way to Syria via Turkey.
The third man, who, according to the Interior Ministry, was also recruited by Borchashvili and was planning to leave for Syria, was also arrested.
Borchashvili was detained by the counter-terrorism unit of the Interior Ministry on June 14 in the village of Gombori, outside Pankisi gorge.
The ministry said that Borchashvili “is a representative of the terrorist group, Islamic State, in Georgia, who was recruiting citizens to join the terrorist organization and arranging their travel to Syria.”
“These allegations are absolutely groundless,” Gela Nikolaishvili, a defense lawyer for Aiuf Borchashvili, told Civil.ge on June 15. “It is utter absurd that he was recruiting people for terrorist groups and of course, we deny it.”
Masked and armed special task force servicemen were deployed at Borchashvili’s house in the Pankisi gorge on June 14 while the law enforcement officers were searching the house.
It was reported that several other men, some natives of the Pankisi gorge, were also detained on June 14. Among them was a relative of Tarkhan Batirashvili, known as Omar al-Shishani, one of military commanders of the IS group in Syria. All of them were released later without being charged.
The Interior Ministry claimed that Borchashvili also recruited and sent two schoolboys from Pankisi gorge – one of them 16 years old - to Syria 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.
Borchashvili defense lawyer said that charges have not been yet formally filed against his client.
48-hour deadline for bringing formal charges after detention expires on June 16.
The Interior Ministry said that the investigation is ongoing under a clause of the criminal code, which deals with recruiting for and providing support to a terrorism organization.