Kazakhstan: Officials Offer Baffling Account of Bloody Manhunt
The manhunt for a group suspected of the premeditated killing of two police officers in the western Kazakhstan village of Shubarshi on June 30 has prompted a bloodbath by the standards of normally tranquil Kazakhstan. So far, 13 are dead. But authorities are, once again, mysteriously intent on ruling out any connection with Islamic movements. After a major security operation – and a $100,000 reward offered for information – the group was tracked down to a house in a nearby village, Kenkiyak, on July 8. Nine suspects and one police officer were killed in an ensuing shootout (another security forces officer died earlier when someone opened fire on him during the manhunt). The authorities offered a baffling explanation for the incident: The group was engaged in organized crime while sheltering behind the guise of religion. “For some time on the territory of Aktobe Region’s Temir District an organized criminal group has been operating which, using religious ideas as a cover, was engaged in theft from a pipeline near the villages of Shubarshi and Kenkiyak, and also committed other crimes of a mercenary and violent nature,” Aktobe Region police spokesman Almat Imangaliyev explained.This is a rather enigmatic explanation. Why would they shelter behind religion, and what does that mean anyway?This account echoes the official explanation for a suicide bombing in Aktobe on May 17, which officials blamed on the mafia. (Another mysterious blast in Astana a week later remains unexplained.)Perhaps two suspects detained on July 11 -- whom the authorities suspect of being in cahoots with the nine who were shot dead -- will shed more light on the subject.During the interrogation, law-enforcers might wish to ponder the last time Shubarshi was in the headlines. In 2009 village resident Azamat Karimbayev was convicted of being the ringleader of a plot to attack energy facilities and received a 17-year sentence. He won’t be able to help with inquiries this time, though: He was later found dead in his cell in suspicious circumstances that the authorities classified as suicide.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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