By Alexander Bogatik
Authorities in Kazakhstan are working to ensure public safety by increasing security measures at facilities considered 'vulnerable to terrorism', including government facilities like the pictured parliament building in Astana. [John MacDougall/AFP]
AKTOBE PROVINCE, Kazakhstan -- Still reeling from a June 5 terror attack that left eight Kazakhstanis dead in Aktobe city, the provincial government is working to halt radicalisation and ensure public safety by increasing security measures at facilities considered "vulnerable to terrorism" and conducting programmes to improve the well-being and skills of the local population.
The efforts all comprised part of the two-stage Ensuring Public Safety Project, completed on December 25. The first stage ran from September 29 to October 28, while the second part lasted from November 10 to December 25.
"On December 25, law enforcement agencies will finish investigating facilities that were rated as vulnerable to terrorism," Aktobe Governor Berdybek Saparbayev said during a December 5 session of the province's counter-terrorism commission, according to the provincial government website. "They revised the list, adding new facilities and eliminating others [which have improved security] previously on the list."
During the first half of the year, Aktobe Province police examined all 110 facilities on the list, inform.kz reported. Police found security or safety violations at 104 of the 110 facilities and issued citations in all cases. They fined the owners of three facilities.
The facilities considered vulnerable include buildings hosting government agencies, National Bank branches and their vaults, military bases, and storage facilities for food or fuel, among others, according to the Aktobe newspaper Diapazon.
During the first phase of the project, the national General Prosecutor's office sent 260 specialists from various agencies nationwide to help prevent radicalisation through social projects, according to the General Prosecutor's office.
Joldas haji Kospakuly, an imam of a mosque in Pavlodar city and one of the specialists, told Caravanserai the deadly June 5 terror attack put the province on the government's radar.
To improve economic opportunity in the province and reduce any grievances that could foster extremism, specialists are training the local population about ways to participate in government programmes and to launch businesses, according to a Aktobe Akparat report.
During the past month, about 2,000 provincial residents learned about business fundamentals, local residents said.
"All of us have felt the attention our region is getting," Arman Otyzbayev, a fledgling businessman from Aktobe, told Caravanserai. "A lot is being done -- such as meetings with the public on how to obtain welfare benefits and jobs, and they're providing free legal consultations."
The provincial government described 15 charity events held during the counter-terrorism drive. Sponsors donated about 1 million KZT (US $2,800) to aid 73 residents. About 100 needy families signed up to participate in the Orleu (Development) programme next year, which will provide welfare benefits in exchange for compulsory participation in job training, re-training and employment programmes.
The project also included prevention meetings for all elements of society.
Five thousand people, including college students, workers and schoolteachers, attended 100 meetings in the past month to learn about the destructiveness of extremist ideology, the provincial government said.
During educational events targeting schoolchildren, college students, parents and teachers, the attendees learned about "the values of the secular foundations of society, the traditions and unity of the people of Kazakhstan and the danger of non-traditional religious teachings and radicalism", the provincial General Prosecutor's Office said in a November 25 statement.
Theologians and imams met with urban and rural dwellers and spoke to some adherents of non-traditional religious groups.
"We spoke about the differences between traditional Islam and movements that preach extremism and terrorism," Yerlan Baiganurov, a theologian from Kargaly District, Aktobe Province, told Caravanserai. "We explained the norms of Kazakhstani law and spoke about the criminal liabilities for promoting terrorism and acting in an extremist manner. We also showed anti-extremism videos and distributed pamphlets."
One-on-one engagement is the most effective, Kospakuly said.
"When you work one-on-one with people, that's when they open up about their ideology and their internal world and ask questions," he said.
Imams are also preaching against extremism during their Friday sermons, according to the Spiritual Administration for the Muslims of Kazakhstan (DUMK), and authorities have organised religious events for high-school students.
"Religious scholars have held several discussions with schoolchildren ... We watch after our pupils and take steps if any of them expresses sympathies for extremists or for radical Islam," Aktobe schoolteacher Tatyana Revkunova told Caravanserai
Police are making it a regular habit of checking attendance at schools and raiding internet cafes for youth skipping class.
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