More trouble in western Kazakhstan, which is beginning to acquire a reputation as a hotbed of Islamic militancy: Police in the oil city of Atyrau have shot dead a suspect they feared was plotting to commit “violent acts,” the Kazinform state news agency reports.
The suspect was mowed down in a gun battle on August 29 as law enforcers rounded up a group of 20 people they suspected of plotting “violent acts both on the territory of Atyrau Region and in neighboring regions of Kazakhstan,” Kazinform reported, citing “operational information.” The other members of the group were detained, reportedly in possession of weapons and explosives.
The incident comes on the heels of a bloody shootout in another energy-rich western region, Aktobe, last month. That episode left nine suspects and four law-enforcement officers dead. Officials offered the baffling account that the suspects were organized criminals sheltering behind the guise of religion.
In late July another cop was killed in Aktobe by gunfire from inside a house in which a man then blew himself up.
Until now, officials have appeared intent on denying that Kazakhstan faces any terror threat: The country’s first-ever suicide bomb in May in downtown Aktobe was blamed on the mafia rather than militants, and a later blast in Astana remains shrouded in mystery.
Kazakhstan has long basked in its reputation as an island of stability in a volatile region. It is keen to preserve that image, which reassures foreign investors developing the country’s lucrative oil and gas fields. They just happen to be in the west – the site of all this suspicious violence.
As EurasiaNet.org reported in June, the explosions and shootouts are fuelling suspicion that Islamic radicalism is gaining ground in Kazakhstan. Astana’s denials have been doing little to calm the conjecture.
On August 30 officials finally resorted to the T word (terrorism): Police have launched a manhunt for two male Atyrau residents suspected of plotting terrorist attacks and involvement in a religious extremist organization, Kazinform reported.
Perhaps this is a sign that Astana is about to become a little more open about the true circumstances behind the recent mysterious bouts of violence?