https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2016/07/25/feature-01
| Terrorism

Extremists in Kazakhstan intensify activity under ISIL influence

By Alexander Bogatik

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Extremists somewhere in Syria are shown in an ISIL propaganda video. [VKontakte screenshot by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- The "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) instigated the June 5 Aktobe terrorist massacre, Kazakhstani authorities are saying.

On that day, gunmen attacked two gun stores and a military base in Aktobe, killing seven Kazakhstanis. Authorities killed 18 terrorists and made nine arrests over the next few days.

Consensus among authorities

Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, an ISIL leader based in Syria who is considered the terrorist group's chief ideologist, "sent a mass appeal by internet to his followers around the world, urging them to commit violent acts before and during the holy month of Ramadan", Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said June 20, when he delivered a public report about authorities' findings on the attack.

"Before the extremists committed their ... attacks they recorded a statement to their 'imam' in Syria," Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kassymov said June 14.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Karim Massimov in Aktobe June 15, Nurlan Kadyrbayev, chief of the National Security Committee (KNB) department in Aktobe Province, also pointed the finger at ISIL.

"Influence from abroad pushed a group of 25 people ... to commit the terrorist attack," Kadyrbayev told Massimov. "They received the command from ISIL's chief ideologist."

Seven of the 25 culprits had criminal records, according to the Interior Ministry (MVD).

Recruitment and orders via internet

Extremists in Kazakhstan are recruited and receive instructions via the internet, authorities say.

"You can find a group of unstable people through such messages," Idrissov said.

"The danger is that the bearers of ISIL's ideology will come into our country right behind the ideology -- bandits who gained combat experience in Syria and Iraq," he said.

Kazakhstani youth too often seek religious information online rather than consulting imams in mosques, Bauryjan Murbekov, leader of the Taraz-based NGO Infocentre Panorama, told Caravanserai.

"Without realising it, they are becoming victims of radical movements," he said.

Expansion a concern

Extremists are spreading across the country, Murbekov warned. Formerly, they were generally found in the south, but now they exist nationwide, he said. For example, Aktobe Province, site of the June 5 atrocity, lies in the west.

Extremist recruiters seek "believers like themselves and the mentally unstable", said Leila Baimanova, leader of an NGO in Shymkent.

Such individuals targeted by various extremist media online "could have been decent members of society, but under the influence of groups like ISIL, they become terrorists and murderers", she told Caravanserai.

"Many ex-convicts and the mentally ill" fall for the poisonous online ideology of breaking the Kazakhstani government's back and killing "infidels", Baimanova added.

Authorities recognise the severity of the problem, having acknowledged the departure of several hundred radicalised citizens to Syria and Iraq since 2011.

In the past year and a half, Kazakhstani authorities have blocked 23,000 pieces of pro-militant online material, according to the government's Committee for Religious Affairs.

However, extremists continue to push their destructive message via popular social networks like Facebook and VKontakte, authorities say.

Breaking up extremist plots

Since the shock and horror of the Aktobe attack, authorities have continued cracking down on terrorists and extremists.

Results came soon in Karaganda Province.

"On June 26, in Balkhash city and Gulshat village ... authorities thwarted a radical group that planned to commit terrorist attacks with improvised explosive devices," the KNB said in a statement.

When authorities in the province were rounding up the suspects, one blew himself up. Police arrested the remaining five suspects.

"All of them are local residents and Kazakhstani citizens," KNB Chief Vladimir Zhumakanov said at a news conference in Astana June 30.

In West Kazakhstan Province, a court June 22 sentenced an extremist preacher to six years in prison.

Under that proselytiser's influence, "five of the province's inhabitants went to Syria", the provincial prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Meanwhile in Aktobe, another batch of extremists recently ended up going to prison.

A court in Aktobe in July sentenced 12 extremists who were plotting to join ISIL in Syria, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported July 12. Most of them received six-year terms, but the ringleader was sentenced to eight years.

Authorities say they are keeping a watchful eye on known and suspected extremists.

In Aktobe Province, 90 potential "jihadists" are under surveillance, according to the KNB.

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