The central mosque in Aktobe. An official said today's suicide bombing had nothing to do with Islam. But analysts say western Kazakhstan could become a breeding ground for radicalism.
A suicide bomber has detonated a bomb at the security service HQ in Kazakhstan’s western oil city of Aktobe, Kazakhstan Today news agency reports. The suicide attacker reportedly entered the National Security Committee (KNB) and set off a bomb early on May 17, injuring two people, a KNB employee and a watchman, Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesman Zhandos Umiraliyev clarified.
He moved to quash initial media speculation that an Islamic radical had attacked the security service – instead, he said, it was a criminal kingpin who blew himself up in what must be the first known mafia suicide attack in Central Asia, and possibly beyond.
Umiraliyev identified the bomber as Rakhimzhan Makatov, who was “suspected of committing a number of crimes within an organized crime group.” His motive? Makatov blew himself up “with the aim of avoiding responsibility” for his alleged crimes, Umiraliyev added.
An Aktobe resident told EurasiaNet.org that the KNB building had been cordoned off since the morning and there was a heavy police presence in the city, though most residents are going about their business as usual.
Western Kazakhstan periodically enters the spotlight over suspicions that religious extremism may be taking root there. In October 2010 Russian police shot dead a Kazakh citizen from Aktau who they said was an extremist holed up in an apartment in the Caucasus republic of Dagestan, Russia’s Regnum news agency reported. In July 2009 five alleged militants carrying Kazakh passports were shot dead in Dagestan, and this February two alleged extremists from Kazakhstan surrendered to police in Dagestan, the same Regnum report said.
Analysts in Kazakhstan say social tension and dissatisfaction at inequality and living standards could be contributing to a rise in militant Islam in the oil-rich west, where – as EurasiaNet.org reported in 2009 – protests sporadically erupt.
Militant Islam has increasingly emerged as a frontline issue for Central Asian states, though analysts believe governments sometimes exaggerate the threat of extremism to win sympathy and funds from the West. Domestically, Kazakhstan hasn’t so far faced this problem on a major scale, and securityofficials certainly don’t appear to believe that the Aktobe bombing has an Islamic link.
Aktobe is one of three oil cities in the west, along with Aktau and Atyrau. It has a heavy Chinese economic presence due to the CNPC AktobeMunaiGas joint energy venture, which is 85 percent owned by Chinese oil and gas giant CNPC. The bombing will likely raise concerns among foreign energy executives about the security of their operations.