2017-11-29 | Terrorism

Almaty police arrest Kazakh 'jihad' group in planning stages of attack

Caravanserai

The suspects appeared in a video using the Kazakh language, threatening law enforcement and government personnel.

Three masked men pose in front of a flag of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir group in a propaganda video, urging others to wage armed 'jihad'. Kazakhstani authorities said they arrested those behind the video on November 28, 2017. [YouTube]

ALMATY -- Almaty police Tuesday (November 28) detained a group of Kazakhstanis for allegedly planning to attack law enforcement personnel and threatening the public, Zakon.kz reported.

The total number of suspects arrested was not reported.

Those arrested include the suspected leaders of the group, who were identified only by their last names and years of birth -- Jumagulov (born in 1966), Omyrov (1970) and Abishev (1974).

The three came from different parts of Kazakhstan, according to Almaty police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek.

The group was "preparing to disrupt public order, terrorise the public and sabotage the work of law enforcement in Almaty", she said.

The suspects had been recruiting like-minded individuals and planned to threaten law enforcement personnel and other civil servants, according to police. They were planning to make anonymous phone calls and send recorded messages threatening to kill their targets and their families.

The group might have "acted on the instructions of criminals who are hiding abroad from Kazakhstani justice", Azirbek said.

An extremist message

The group had also prepared propaganda materials and a video message calling for armed jihad, according to police.

In one video, group members wore masks, carried weapons and posed in front of the flag of banned group Hizb ut-Tahrir. The video appeared on some instant messaging applications before police made the arrests.

During searches of the suspects' residences, police seized various electronic storage devices containing the video as well as hard copies of extremist literature. The seized materials were sent for expert analysis.

Later, journalists received the video footage, part of which showed an instructor coaching other men how to address the public on video.

"Talk just like this -- say we're speaking in the people's name," the instructor said. "To sound persuasive, don't pause. Speak sharply."

"We must overthrow this government," said one of the individuals in the video. "Law enforcement agencies and civic activists, if you don't stop persecuting us, we are ready to declare jihad in Allah's name."

Targeting malleable youth

Experienced insurgent proselytisers recruit poorly educated and malleable youth, said National Security Committee (KNB) reservist in Almaty Col. Arat Narmanbetov.

Such recruits "are just like suicide bombers, whom terrorist groups skillfully use for their own purposes", he told Caravanserai.

Law enforcement officials deserve credit when they are able to catch "the heroes" of such videos before their toxic message even reaches the internet, he said.

The suspects' choice of Kazakh as their language in the video has led authorities to theorise that they were targeting young, poor, rural dwellers desperate for ways to support their families.

Russian remains the language used to reach urban or more highly educated Kazakhstanis.

"These guys are zombies -- like a computer, they do what they're programmed to do," Abdullah Bakhadyr, a Shymkent-based religious scholar, told Caravanserai. "Calls to commit armed 'jihad' have nothing to do with religion. It's always cruel, bloodthirsty politics."

Kazakhstani authorities are conducting vigorous counter-terrorism work, he said, adding that security agencies often cannot disclose everything about arrests and the prevention of terrorist attacks.

"Every day it becomes clearer and clearer that a real battle is going on" in Kazakhstan, he said. "The video might be an attempt by terrorists to show they're not just sitting on their hands."

[Ksenia Bondal contributed to this report from Almaty.]

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