Kazakhstan’s security services say they have detained members of an extremist organization plotting a series of terror attacks.
The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, said in a statement on August 22 that that the four people captured in the Almaty region in a special operation were citizens of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The operation took place on August 18.
The KNB said that they found components of improvised explosive devices and extremist religious material in the places where the group resided.
“The plan of the radicals to mount armed attacks on staff and places of deployment of KNB officers and police and on military bases have been neutralized. Their next stage was to be terrorist attacks on places where the public gather in large groups,” the KNB said.
The statement was typically perfunctory and similar in tone and detail to one in late June, when the KNB said it had intercepted a group in the central Karaganda region that it believed was also planning a series of terrorist strikes. Initial reports spoke of seven suspected plotters being arrested, but that figure was increased to eight in the first half of August.
And that is as much of a public update as has been provided, other than that the group is to be tried on terrorism and a variety of arms-related charges. The line is that in the interests of the investigation, no more details are being released.
This lack of transparency or even the slightest insight into what might be motivating would-be attackers is standard operating procedure for Kazakhstan’s security services.
A screenshot of a video released by the State Security Service of Georgia, showing the questioning of a suspect alleged to have plotted to blow up a gas pipeline between Russia and Armenia.
Georgia's security services have arrested five men they claim were planning to blow up a gas pipeline between Russia and Armenia, setting off speculation about who could have been behind the alleged plot.
The State Security Service of Georgia announced that it had broken up the plot and released a video showing the explosives they seized, the accused men being taken into custody and questioned, and schemes of the attempted plan. Two others were also arrested in connection with the plot, a police officer accused of "abuse of power" and someone accused of not reporting the plot.
So the question immediately became: who would want to blow up the pipeline? Taken together, Russia and Armenia -- the likely targets of the plot -- have plenty of foes. At a press conference, the authorities alluded to an intriguing Ukraine connection. From Civil.ge:
One of the journalists at the briefing asked the State Security Service official if the arrested men had “links to Ukraine” – the journalist said that his question was stemming from a post on a social media by one of the Georgian volunteer fighters in Ukraine, who wrote that their supporters had been arrested in Georgia.
An investigator from the State Security Service, Savle Motiashvili, responded: “According to available information, one of the arrested men was visiting Ukraine often, but it is not yet clear whether this criminal group was directed from Ukraine.”
A series of alleged tapped telephone conversations among senior Tajikistan diplomats discussing plans to cover up a purported rape in Turkmenistan is threatening to sour relations between the otherwise friendly nations.
The recordings appeared earlier this month on a 20-minute YouTube video edited clumsily to appear to like a news report on Turkmen state television. A link to the video — the origin of which is uncertain — is now being widely shared by exiled Tajik opposition groups, which are pointing to the claimed incident as evidence of moral corruption among officials.
None of the recordings could be independently verified and none of the governments involved have commented officially on the alleged events described.
The narrator of the YouTube video, whose voice has been distorted, possibly to disguise his identity, opens the account with praise for Turkmenistan and its leader, only to note “there are some who are prepared to do almost anything to spoil relations with our country” — a reference to Tajik diplomats.
The speaker claims in the narration that the third secretary of Tajikistan’s Embassy in Turkmenistan, Golibshoh Kayumov, was earlier this year detained by police in the city of Chardjou on suspecting to rape a minor earlier this year.
As supporting evidence, there is a lengthy recorded telephone conversation between people identified as Tajik Embassy second secretary, H. Rahimov, and then-ambassador Mahmudjon Sobirov. After some initial pleasantries, Rahimov explains to this superior that Kayumov was caught in flagrante delicto with the young girl and was later forced to sign a statement admitting to having sexual relations with her.
Police in Tajikistan have taken to drawing up lists of women known to wear the hijab in a fresh measure to combat signs of what they perceive as excess Islamic piety.
Asia-Plus news last week cited the head of police in the northern city of Khujand, Emin Jalilov, as saying that raids have been mounted in markets with the aim of maintaining security and upholding national customs. That translates in practical terms to clamping down on any clothing deemed suggestive of radical Islamic beliefs.
“During raids we found that at 38 retail points in the city there were saleswomen wearing (veils),” Jalilov said.
Jalilov noted with regret that many bazaar directors are failing to clamp down on the phenomenon.
“At the moment, the city police has a list of 643 women that wear the hijab. Of those, 513 are residents of the city. These neighborhoods are under the close supervision of the police,” he said.
Authorities are always eager to stress that the threat is not hypothetical but real.
As Jalilov noted, 30 residents of Khujand have been detained on suspicion of associating with radical and terrorist Islamic groups so far this year. At least 245 members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group and 226 followers of the Salafi movement have been recorded in Khujand, he said. Most of those have received criminal sentences of some kind.
These figures are of questionable value, however, given how arbitrarily police and courts assign membership status in underground groups to anybody they deem even mildly suspicious. True membership or affiliation figures may be much smaller, or for that matter, much greater.
Starting from August 1, internet service providers in Kazakhstan have reportedly massively hiked fees for online services to companies in neighbor and fellow Eurasian Economic Union member Kyrgyzstan.
Media in Kyrgyzstan are warning that internet users should expect their traffic bills to increase substantially in the future.
Kazakhstan is Kyrgyzstan’s only dependable, high-quality link to global online infrastructure, so any shift in the former’s market inevitably has a knock-on effect in the latter.
The Association of Communication Operators has called in a letter for the government to intervene by raising the issue at the Eurasian Economic Commission, the executive body of the EEU.
According to the letter, addressed to Prime Minister Oleg Pankratov, Kazakhstani operators, who they say have raised their tariffs by two- to threefold, are playing hardball. Any attempts by Kyrgyz to shop around for alternative providers will result in automatic cutoffs.
“Also, Kazakhstani operators are increasing transit prices for European and Russian operators which supply internet services to Kyrgyzstan,” the letter said.
Non-Kazakhstani-sourced internet dominates supply, accounting for 90 percent of the total in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan’s only medal winner thus far at the Rio Olympics, weightlifter Izzat Artykov, has been stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for strychnine.
Artykov, who won bronze in the 69-kilogram category, became the first athlete to be excluded from these Olympics for doping after he tested positive for strychnine, a banned performance enhancer more commonly used to kill pesky rodents.
Strange though it may seem, strychnine has history in the Olympics. Way back in 1904, Thomas Hicks won the marathon after receiving a reviving mix of strychnine and egg whites washed down with a hefty measure of brandy after he started to falter on his way to the finish line. At the time, strychnine was in common use as a stimulant.
It’s not clear what reception Artykov will get on returning home, but he shouldn’t expect any sympathy from Kanat Amankulov, director of Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Youth, Physical Culture and Sport, who publicly upbraided wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova after she narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.
In other Olympics news concerning Central Asia, Kazakhstani boxer Vasily Levit, who controversially lost out on a gold medal to Russia’s Evgeny Tischchenko, is to receive the reward for a gold medal finish from Astana — a cool $250,000.
Soldiers from Kazakhstan take part in the opening ceremony of "Cooperation-2016," the CSTO military exercises taking part near the borders of Estonia and Latvia. (photo: MoD Kazakhstan)
Russian military exercises near its western borders have become de rigeur over the last couple of years, as tension between Russia and NATO has spiked. But exercises that kicked off this week are novel in that Russia has brought along its allies from the Caucasus and Central Asia, which have for the most part sought to avoid getting drawn into Russia's conflict with the West.
The exercise kicked off August 16 in the Pskov oblast, which borders Estonia and Latvia. About 5,000 Russian soldiers are taking part, along with about 1,000 from the other countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
These exercises, under the rubric "Cooperation," are the annual cornerstone of the CSTO military exercise program. But there are some new twists this time. For the first time in the history of the exercises, Russia's ambassador to NATO Aleksandr Grushko is observing them. "Obviously, in the situation where NATO countries are pursuing a course of military containment of Russia, we have to undertake efforts to ensure that Russia's safety is secured," he said at a press conference there. "I'm sure that the NATO countries are carefully following" the CSTO exercises, he added. "The art of war is an extremely competitive field."
Ukraine’s security service has said it has detained a citizen of Uzbekistan engaged in fighting alongside separatist forces with the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
Just as significantly, the news has also been reported by media inside Uzbekistan, which has tried to adopt a neutral position toward events involving Ukraine, and Russia by extension, in recent years.
In a video confession posted on the website of the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU), the suspected 20-year old fighter identifies himself as Alexander Brikin and says he joined the ranks of separatist forces in December 2014 as a way of earning some money. Brikin, who bears clear signs of rendering his confession under duress, said he had been engaged in fighting in Horlivka and Shyrokyne, two intense hotspots in the eastern Ukrainian conflict.
Ukrainian authorities said Brikin was captured after he traveled to the government-controlled city of Mariupol in an attempt to register as a Ukrainian citizen.
The government in Uzbekistan is only too aware that volunteers and mercenaries have been heading to Ukraine. In January, the Uzbek Embassy in Ukraine posted a statement on its website warning people against trying to enroll with separatist forces.
“The Embassy is hereby informing that according to Article 154 of Uzbekistan Criminal Code … it is a crime to participate in any armed conflict or military activities in foreign states even where there is no evidence of mercenary activity. Such actions envisions punishment of up to ten years in prison,” the statement read.
Tashkent is concerned about its citizens fighting on either side of the conflict, however.
No sooner had Kyrgyzstan’s parliament canceled deals with Russian companies to build two major hydropower plant in January, talk began of having to pay money back.
With more than six months having elapsed since that decision, Russia is now raising the issue anew, demanding the return of $37 million its companies sunk into the projects, RFE/RL has reported.
The deal agreed between Kyrgyzstan and Russia on construction of the Upper Naryn cascade and Kambarata-1 hydropower projects, which were to be built by RusHydro and Inter RAO UES, respectively, officially expired on August 9.
Kyrgyzstan has, on paper at least, been candid about its obligations since day one. In January, deputy Economy Minister Nurlan Sadykov said that $37 million spent on a worker dormitory, cement production facility and other items would be reimbursed.
There was one catch though.
Sadykov added that money would be returned only once Kyrgyzstan had found new investors for the projects in question.
“Kyrgyzstan has fully abided by the obligations placed upon it by the project [agreement],” he said.
Sadykov said that while Kyrgyzstan allocated the necessary land for work, Russia had failed to provide funds required develop it in the required timeframe.
“The lack of financing was what became the cause of the cancellation of the deal,” he said.
No alternative has materialized and it does not appear that Bishkek has made especially concerted efforts to seek out such a party. Generating interest from individuals, companies or states will be tough given the likely costs. RFE/RL explains how the initial estimate for the Upper Naryn cascade was calculated at $400 million, but that this figure later rose to $700 million. And Inter RAO UES was contemplating $2 billion investments into Kambarata-1.
A high-ranking member of a banned opposition party in Tajikistan jailed for purportedly masterminding the hoisting of an Islamic State flag in his town has died in prison, Ozadagon news website has reported.
Ozadagon reported on August 16 that Kurbon Mannonov, who was head of the local branch of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan in the town of Nurek, died at detention facility (SIZO) NO. 1 in Dushanbe overnight. At the time of his sentencing, in February, Mannonov was 73 years old.
Ozadagon cited sources in the IRPT as saying that Mannonov had recently complained of ill-health and bleeding.
A couple of cases involving Islamic State flags over the past year have revealed the new depths being probed by the arch-paranoid government as it seeks to crush all those opposed to its rule. Tajikistan’s Western partners have registered only mute condemnation of the regime embrace of outright authoritarian practices and the United States continues to lavish the government with security assistance.
The Khatlon regional court in February sentenced Mannonov and 12 others to jail terms between 10 and 25 years for putting up the terrorist group’s distinctive black flag. Formally, the group was charged with membership in a criminal organization, public calls for the overturning of the constitutional order and extremist activity.
The group was arrested in August, just as the authorities were beginning to ratchet up their pressure against the IRPT, which has since been banned.