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.
Two mysterious explosions hit Kazakhstan's western oil hub of Atyrau on October 31 within the space of five minutes, one of which may have been a botched suicide bombing.
The first exploded in a trash can near the local government headquarters at 9:45 a.m., law enforcers said, and the second followed in a residential district outside the city center.
The second was a suicide bomb, Kazinform quoted law-enforcement sources as saying – but they offered no explanation about what the target might have been, raising the prospect that the device may have detonated by accident. The bomber was killed on the spot and an 18-month-old baby was injured by flying glass when the blast blew out windows in a nearby apartment block.
This is the latest in a spate of perplexing explosions in Kazakhstan – usually hailed as the most stable country in volatile Central Asia – which began with the country’s first-ever suicide bombing in another oil city, Aktobe, in May. Officials blamed that blast on the mafia. A baffling car explosion in Astana a week later, which officials have never satisfactorily explained, killed two men.
All these pyrotechnics have stirred fears that Islamic radicalism is on the rise in Kazakhstan, apprehensions that were stoked by a shootout between security forces and a group of suspects in western Kazakhstan in July that ended in a bloodbath.
Another police officer has been shot dead in western Kazakhstan, the Kazakhstan Today news agency reports, bringing to five the death toll among the security forces in the country's restive, energy-rich region this month.
The latest officer to die was felled by gunfire from inside a house in the oil city of Aktobe -- which was the scene of a suicide bombing in May that authorities blamed on the mafia -- while he was pursing a gang suspected of a July 10 murder, the agency said.
A gunman opened fire, killing the officer, and also set off an explosion, Kazakhstan Today said. Police then found the corpse of a man inside the house, along with one injured man, whose identity is being established. A woman who said she was the owner of the house was detained. The date of the incident was not specified.
Two more members of the security forces were killed during a subsequent operation to hunt down those murderers, making the latest officer the fifth to die within a month. Nine suspects were also shot dead during that manhunt.
Authorities in Tajikistan seem bent on a confrontation with followers of Islam.
President Imomali Rakhmon has said his country has too many unregistered mosques. They are “propagating extremism” with foreign funding, “attracting youth to radical groups” and should be closed, he said at a February 10 meeting of his Security Council.
The comments came days after the spokesman of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, was brutally beaten outside his Dushanbe home. In response to the high-profile attack, the embattled party slammed Rakhmon for presiding over an authoritarian, corrupt regime and said someone had tried to assassinate Saifullohzoda.