Five suspected terrorists have been shot dead in a security operation in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west, following a blast in the city of Atyrau last week in which one man died.
The shootout with police took place in the town of Kulsary, 230 kilometers from the energy hub of Atyrau, Tengri News reports. Another suspect and one police officer were injured.
Security forces moved in on suspects “involved in the activity of a terrorist group” on September 12, Tengri News quoted the prosecutor’s office as saying, and shot the five dead after they reportedly exploded some devices and opened fire on police.
The incident follows a September 5 explosion in an Atyrau apartment in which one man died. Investigators believe he was making explosive devices in order to attack the security forces and have arrested four suspected accomplices.
Once-calm Kazakhstan experienced a spate of extremist-related incidents in 2011, and – after what appeared to be a lull in terrorist activity in the first half of 2012 – incidents are again occurring with frequency.
On July 11 an explosion in the village of Tausamaly outside Almaty killed four adults and four children. Investigators believe the blast was an accidental detonation in a house being used to make bombs. Then, on July 30, six men suspected of murdering two law-enforcement officers were shot dead by police in Almaty.
Over 50 people (mainly members of the security forces and suspected extremists) have been killed in incidents that investigators have linked to extremism since May 2011, when Kazakhstan experienced its first-ever suicide bombing in another western oil town, Aktobe. In November 2011 a lone gunman in the southern city of Taraz killed seven people before blowing himself up.
A shadowy group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) has claimed responsibility for some of the incidents in Kazakhstan, although some analysts doubt that the group, which says it is based on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, exists in any meaningful fashion.
However, in an indication that would-be extremists in Kazakhstan may be forging international links, French investigators have said that Mohammed Merah, who shot seven people dead in Toulouse in March, had called contacts in Kazakhstan.