Armenian media warn of Taliban penetration

A terse, unconfirmed report about a “Taliban infiltration” first run by a local opposition daily has stirred a major controversy in Armenia, a country that last week controversially appeared on the list of only four dozen or so states worldwide where U.S. citizens received security alerts from their embassies in the wake of rising Islamic rage.

Ultra-oppositional Haykakan Zhamanak wrote today that a group of Taliban terrorists had penetrated into the territory of Armenia. The paper did not elaborate. It only quoted Artsvin Baghramyan, a spokesperson for Armenia’s National Security Service, as neither confirming nor denying the information. “I do not comment on the news. The National Security Service keeps focused on the legal fight against terrorism. So, there is nothing to worry about,” the official told the paper.

The report was immediately linked to last week’s warning to Americans visiting or staying in Armenia from the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan to remain vigilant in the wake of rising violence in Islamic countries targeting Americans. The embassy warning raised eyebrows in Armenia, a predominantly Christian country, with many baffled at the kind of alert for a country where U.S. citizens have always been safe and where there have never been any anti-American sentiments unlike many other neighboring countries or even countries of central and Western Europe.

The U.S. Embassy explained then that there was “no specific information to indicate that these events will affect security in Armenia”.

In an article entitled “Real or ‘Imaginary’ Taliban” a Lragir.am writer is trying to assess the veracity of the information, at the same time arguing that the National Security Service must tell the society the whole truth: “Even if it causes a panic, it is better than to put people to sleep and be unable to prevent a catastrophe.”

“The question of who and how entered Armenia is not just an internal question but a subject of ‘international negotiations’. The Russian border guards should provide full information to their Armenian colleagues,” the newspaper opined. “Besides, it is also necessary to find out where the information leakage happened. Perhaps, someone misinformed people on purpose or someone needs to test the efficiency of the anti-terrorist forces. Moreover, the exercise of the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s Rapid Reaction Force is underway in Armenia. So, it is not ruled out that there is an ‘imaginary enemy’”.

No official comments have been issued regarding the speculations.

Meanwhile, one former security official has described the matter as something deserving ‘serious treatment’.

Assessing the possibility of such a penetration as ‘fifty-fifty’, Gurgen Yeghiazaryan, ex-deputy minister of national security, said: “If our National Security Service received the information from Russian special services, it should be treated seriously. If the information is correct, it should be linked to the postponement of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s visit which means the information belongs to Russia’s special services.”

Following Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Moscow in August and his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to pay a visit to Armenia, local media suggested that the Russian leader could visit Armenia as early as in September in time for the CSTO war games in the South Caucasus country. Some indicated September 17 as the possible date for the visit.

But Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan told media today that Putin’s visit had never been officially confirmed by the Armenian side.

“It was stated by Russian State Duma MP Konstantin Zatulin at a news conference in Yerevan,” Balayan explained to Tert.am.

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