Kazakhstan’s security services have said they have intercepted a group planning a series of terrorist acts using improvised explosive devices.
One suspect blew himself up as law enforcements officers tried to go in for an arrest in the village of Gulshat, in the the central Karaganda region, The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement on June 29. Other members of the group appear to have been based in the town of Balkhash.
According to the statement, the apparent suicide blast occurred on June 26.
Officials claim to have made a number of arrests but provided no firm details.
“Objects seized included the components of an explosive device, firearms and other evidence,” the KNB said.
The statement made no allusions to the recent spurt of violence in the western city of Aktobe earlier in the month, when a large group of men seized weapons from a hunting supplies shop and went on to attack a National Guard base. Seven people, including three servicemen, were killed in that incident on June 5.
Authorities initially identified the perpetrators in Aktobe as belonging to a radical religious group and suggested they had received guidance from militants in Syria, but the flow of official information about the events has since run dry.
On June 6, following the unrest in Aktobe, authorities announced they were raising the terrorism alert to amber for a 40-day period.
While describing the group intercepted in the Karaganda region as terrorist plotters, authorities have avoided giving any specifics about motivations.
The government is in something of a quandary when it comes to discussing the threat of terrorism in Kazakhstan. On one hand, it is quick to use the label and has regularly made claims of a vague militant threat, while showing it is taking effective steps to counteract the problem. At the same time, Astana is reluctant to concede that it might have even the slightest sign of religiously inspired insurgency brewing among its population.
The result of that often contradictory stance results in terse press releases that indicate in extreme generalities the nature of the threat, without offering any additional context for its origin or its potential targets.
Security services do, however, acknowledge that citizens of Kazakhstan have been object for recruitment by militant forces active in Syria.
The prosecutor’s office in the West Kazakhstan region said on June 22 that a court in the northwestern city of Uralsk, which lies just south of the Russian border, had sentenced the leader of a local religious group to six years in jail for “propagandizing terrorism.”
The accused man had recruited five people to fight in Syria, the prosecutor’s office said.
Indeed, while putting a sanguine face to its domestic audience, Kazakhstan’s government also sense the need to reassure Moscow it is on top of any possible dangers. The West Kazakhstan prosecutor’s office described its June 22 statement how it has pursued five criminal cases involving religious radicalism in the first quarter of this year.
“One was a case of incitement to religious hatred, two were for propagandizing terrorism and two were for involvement in terrorist activities,” the statement said.
The recent conviction was for one of those cases, which suggests that terrorism cases are processed through the system with haste.
There were 14 terrorism-related cases in the West Kazakhstan region in 2015, of which 11 have led to convictions.
In an unrelated development, the head of Russia’s national Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, was expected to be wrapping up a two-day visit to Kazakhstan on June 29. The purpose of his visit to Kazakhstan was to discuss regional security and the threat to the post-Soviet region emanating from the activities of the Islamic State militant group.