Shootouts in Western Kazakhstan Raise Specter of Extremism
Just what is going on in western Kazakhstan? Two police officers slaughtered in a village on June 30, an elite task unit officer killed trying to hunt down the killers, and the relative of one suspect shot dead while fleeing from the security forces – it sounds more like troubled Afghanistan than usually tranquil Kazakhstan. Adding to the intrigue, this bout of violence comes in the wake of a May suicide bomb attack in the western oil city of Aktobe that authorities dismissed as the work of the mafia.This time, police “do not rule out the involvement of religious extremists in the murder of the police officers,” Kazakhstan Today reported as security forces continue to hunt the killers.The two officers were killed in the village of Shubarshi, 250 kilometers from Aktobe, when attackers set upon their checkpoint, shot them, and fled the scene.Investigators have named six men as suspects -- four from Shubarshi and two from the nearby villages of Kenkiyak and Sarykol. Five are men in their twenties; one is over 40.One member of the security forces from the elite Arlan task force has already been killed in the ongoing operation to capture the suspects, Kazakhstan Today reports. On July 4 the cousin of one of the suspects was killed in a shootout with police in Kenkiyak. Kazakhstan Today quoted the police as saying that they received a report that three mysterious people -- one an “Asiatic” man and two women wearing hijabs -- were digging a hole and behaving suspiciously. When the police arrived, the three reportedly put up active resistance and threw a plastic bag with unspecified contents at them, crying “Allahu Akbar!” As they tried to flee in a car amid sounds the police interpreted as gunfire, an officer fired a shot and hit the cousin, who died in hospital.Police say the car fled the scene without him, leaving behind two guns; 500 grams of unidentified black powder; approximately $10,000 in Kazakh tenge; and some religious pamphlets.When two puzzling blasts rocked Kazakhstan in the space of a week in May, the authorities were quick to rule out extremism, to the skepticism of many observers. The latest bout of violence again raises more questions than it answers.