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.
Western Kazakhstan was recently the scene of a fatal shootout during a manhunt for a group suspected of the premeditated killing of two police officers in the village of Shubarshi.
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.
The violence has provoked fears that Islamic radicalism is on the rise in Kazakhstan. But officials have denied the involvement of religious extremists, offering the explanation – seen as implausible by critics – that the suspects were using religion as a cover for criminal activities.
The circumstances of the latest killing have again aroused suspicion, but so far law-enforcement officials are not commenting on extremist links. Officials “are neither denying nor confirming information that members of a religious organization, so-called ‘bearded ones,’ are involved in the explosion,” Kazakhstan Today said.