The State Security Service of Georgia (SSG) has said they arrested Malkhaz Paksashvili, a Georgian national alleged to be an Islamic State (IS) commander. Paksashvili denies his involvement with the terrorist organisation.
In a briefing following his arrest, the SSG claimed that Paksashvili left Georgia in 2013 to fight in Syria with the IS.
The SSG’s counter-terrorism centre carried out Paksashvili's arrest and published a video purportedly of the operation.
‘In 2013–2015 Paksashvili joined the group of brothers Tsesar and Tsiskara Tokhosashvili — the ‘military emirs’, and took an active part in the attacks and military operations carried out by the terrorist organissation’, said an SSG representative.
The SSG claimed that Paksashvili was a senior figure in the IS, holding the position of Naib, or deputy, of one of its groups.
He is accused of joining a terrorist organisation in a foreign country and assisting in terrorist activities. If found guilty, he could face up to 17 years in prison.
Rustavi 2 claimed that Paksashvili was arrested in the eastern Kakheti Region, and that he has pleaded not guilty to the charges leveled against him.
RFE/RL reported that Paksashvili’s family members and friends also deny his involvement with the IS, stating that he has been living in Tsinubani, a village in Pankisi, for the last eight years.
Pankisi Valley is predominantly inhabited by Kists, a Chechen sub-ethnos.
Paksashvili was detained as a preventive measure by the Tbilisi City Court.
Rustavi 2 reports that he opted not to be represented by a lawyer, and that he said that he will ‘defend himself’.
Speaking to journalists, Maia Silagadze, a prosecutor, said that law enforcement agencies had witnesses, expert reports, and video records proving Paksashvili’s involvement with the IS.
‘The case is classified and I cannot talk about the statements made by him in detail, however, I can tell you that at this stage he does not admit to the crime committed’, she said.
‘He has been in Georgia for several years, and after evidence was obtained that the defendant joined the terrorist organisation Islamic State and participated in various operations carried out by it, the prosecution petitioned the court to issue a ruling on his arrest’.
Paksashvili’s mother, Mzia Natsishvili, told RFE/RL that her son was working in Turkey in 2013–2015 and that the accusations were not true.
His friend, Levan Duishvili, accused the SSG of fabricating the accusations against Paksashvili.
‘He was probably sacrificed for another cause. Malkhazi was a kind of leader for our village, if we had any problems, he was a mediator with the mayor’s office’, Duishvili said.