DUSHANBE: Seventeen people were killed in Tajikistan on Wednesday (Nov 6) in an attack on a border post that officials blamed on Islamic State group militants who had crossed over from Afghanistan.
Tajik security forces killed 15 assailants when an armed and masked gang attacked the checkpoint on the border with Uzbekistan.
A soldier and a policeman also died in the fighting, officials said.
The clashes near the Tajik capital Dushanbe broke out as the country prepared to celebrate Constitution Day on Wednesday and the country's long-serving President Emomali Rakhmon was on a visit to Switzerland.
Rakhmon is also expected to visit Paris later this week to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron as part of a rare European visit.
After questioning several detained militants, the Tajik border guard service said the men were members of the Islamic State group who had crossed the border from Afghanistan on Sunday.
"All (of them) are members of the so-called terrorist group 'Islamic State'", the border guard service said in a statement.
The interior ministry released pictures of several bodies in black clothes lying next to burnt-out vehicles at the scene of the clash.
The militants crossed the border in the south of Tajikistan and apparently trekked to the site of the attack on the border with Uzbekistan, which is around 200 kilometres away.
The armed gang of around 20 masked people attacked the Ishkobod border post located some 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the Tajikistan capital after 3 am local time Wednesday, the interior ministry said.
"As a result of an operation conducted by law enforcement forces, 15 members of an armed criminal group were neutralised and four more attackers detained," the interior ministry said in a statement.
The country's border guards said separately that five attackers had been detained.
Tajikistan, a poor mountainous country of nine million people bordering Afghanistan and China, has been hit by conflicts since it gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Tens of thousands of people were killed in Tajikistan during a five-year civil war in the 1990s when rebel groups including Islamists rose up against the government.
In recent years, the majority-Muslim country has struggled with an Islamist insurgency.
The authorities have said that more than 1,000 Tajiks joined Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq in recent years.
The most famous IS recruit from Tajikistan was Gulmurod Halimov, who headed the interior ministry's special forces unit before sensationally announcing his defection to IS in a video attributed to the group in 2015.
In May, at least 32 people were killed in a prison riot in Tajikistan, including 19 members of the Islamic State militant group and several guards.
The prison in Vakhdat, 17 kilometres (11 miles) east of the capital Dushanbe, holds 1,500 inmates.
In July 2018, an attack on foreign cycling tourists left four dead and two injured.
The Islamic State militant group has claimed the attack on the cyclists including two Americans.