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Kazakhstan: Agents Capture Alleged Gang of Islamist Oil Thieves

Security forces in Kazakhstan carried out a special operation in the western city of Aktobe on December 7 to break up an alleged group of Islamist radicals stealing and reselling oil and oil products.

The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement that several people have been detained and several tanker trucks confiscated following a special operation at an oil refinery in Aktobe. The raid was carried out together with officers from the anti-corruption agency. 

No further information was provided about the identity of those detained or the means by which the oil goods were being resold.

Claims of collusion between criminal gangs and radical Islamists are not new for Kazakhstan. Following a series of terror blasts in 2011, authorities spoke about how criminal group operating under the guise of Islamists were siphoning oil directly from pipelines in western Kazakhstan. Likewise, the head of the anticorruption in June 2014 announced that authorities had broken up a transnational crime group led by a Salafist was stealing oil in the Aktobe region.

The repeated occurrence of such investigations highlights the extent of interdependence between regular financial crime and terrorism in Kazakhstan. While officials have on occasion tried to present one as a convenient cover for the other — underground radical Islamist groups as a good recruitment base for criminal gangs — the phenomenon appears to suggest a far more symbiotic relationship.

This understanding may explain the recent appointment of a top tax official as deputy head of the KNB, as authorities seek to address not just the ideological roots of radicalism but also its sources of funding.

Aktobe is particularly sensitive to evidence of signs of persisting Islamist radicalism following the mass shooting earlier this year in the city that claimed the lives of eight people, including three soldiers.

Kazakhstan: Agents Capture Alleged Gang of Islamist Oil Thieves

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