Terrorism

Kazakhstan declares state of emergency after terrorist attack

By Alexander Bogatik

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A photo posted on social media shows a gun shop in Aktobe after a deadly June 5 terrorist attack. [Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstani authorities have put their country on "moderate" (code yellow) alert after terrorist attacks left 21 people in Aktobe dead June 5.

The terrorists, seeking weapons, stormed two local gun shops and a National Guard base.

In the fighting that resulted, the terrorists took eight lives, the government said. Police killed 13 terrorists and made 8 arrests. They are still pursuing seven suspects.

The terrorists all belonged to extremist movements, the police said. Almost all came from Aktobe city or Aktobe Province.

"Law enforcement agencies and intelligence services are carrying out joint investigative operations to identify, track down and arrest the other perpetrators of armed attacks on the gun stores and National Guard base," the National Security Committee (KNB) said in a statement.

Aktobe is on red alert, two stages higher than the nationwide yellow alert.

Chronology of attacks

The violence began June 5 at 2.28pm, when a group of extremists attacked the Pallas gun shop. An employee pressed the emergency call button, but the attackers stabbed him. Two private security guards responded to the call. One was killed and the other wounded.

When police arrived, a shoot-out ensued. Three police officers were injured. The terrorists hijacked a police car and fled with 17 hunting rifles stolen from the shop.

After fleeing the scene, the terrorists split into two groups. The smaller group stormed Panther, another gun store, while the larger team rammed the gates of a National Guard base with a hijacked bus. Its goal was to steal weapons from the base.

In the shoot-out with police that erupted at Panther, three terrorists and one customer were killed. One suspect fled.

At the National Guard base, police and troops battled the terrorists. Three soldiers and one terrorist were killed.

During the remainder of June 5 and into the wee hours of June 6, security forces arrested seven suspects and killed five terrorists.

'Red' and 'yellow' threat levels

Immediately after the violence, Aktobe residents received a text message announcing a code red alert. That is the highest threat level ("critical") in Kazakhstan. It permits authorities to tap phones, search people on the street and prepare for possible evacuations.

The next level is orange ("high" threat level). Kazakhstani authorities opted for code yellow ("moderate") nationwide, to last for 40 days. It includes pre-cautionary measures like gathering intelligence about possible terrorist acts and inspecting public places that could be vulnerable to attack.

"Authorities are asking residents [of Aktobe] through the mass media not to leave their homes," Tatyana Nosova, an Aktobe resident, told Central Asia Online. "We are afraid for our children and ourselves, but we hope for decisive police action."

Aktobe Province Akim (Governor) Berdibek Saparbayev urged provincial residents to stay calm and vigilant.

All military bases nationwide have beefed up security, according to the Defence Ministry.

Growing terrorist momentum

"The terrorist attack in Aktobe came on the eve of Ramadan, which shows the criminals' extreme cynicism and cruelty," Senate Chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev tweeted June 5.

"Sleeper" terrorist cells in Kazakhstan recently stepped up their activity, Erlan Karin, director of the Astana-based Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, said on his Facebook page.

"The events that occurred were a matter of time," he posted.

Security forces have reduced the exodus of radicalised Kazakhstanis to Syria, but the Kazakhstanis who reached Syria have been very active, he said, according to an interview posted by Vlast.kz.

"In Kazakhstan alone, ISIL ['the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'] has released five 'official' videos with specific appeals," he said in the interview. "This kind of massive propaganda is bound to have an impact on sleeper cells sooner or later."

"One of those cells was apparently operating in Aktobe," he said. "Today's events will mark a new stage in the development of the threat from extremism and terrorism in Kazakhstan."

Domestic terrorists "are changing and taking the initiative", Marat Shibutov, an Almaty political scientist, told Central Asia Online.

"If they had seized automatic weapons at the base [they attacked], there would have been many more casualties," Shibutov said.

"Once again, terrorists ... have shown their true faces," the government's Committee for Religious Affairs said in a statement. "In fact true Islamic values are alien to them."

Mourning the dead

Meanwhile, residents of Aktobe are honouring the victims.

Daniel Mailibayev, a National Guard officer who was killed in the fighting at his base, was buried June 7. Local authorities promised to set aside 5m KZT (US $14,000) and an apartment for his family.

The family of Mikhail Matrosov, the customer killed at the Pallas gun store, is preparing to bury him. He leaves a 13-year-old son.

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