ASTANA -- Sweeping legal reforms could make Kazakhstan even less hospitable for extremists.
The effort comes as the country reels from deadly terrorist attacks in Aktobe June 5 and in Almaty July 18.
In late June, the National Security Committee (KNB), together with other law enforcement agencies, prepared a draft of sweeping legal amendments that would increase punishment for extremist acts both inside and outside Kazakhstan.
Violence shocks country
Kazakhstan June 6 elevated the country's terror level to yellow (moderate) -- for the first ever -- for 40 days, following the terrorist attack in Aktobe one day earlier. A gang of gunmen attacked two gun stores and a military base, killing four civilians and three members of the elite National Guard.
Authorities killed 18 of the attackers in the days afterward and made nine arrests.
On July 16, the KNB extended the yellow threat level for 30 days.
To strengthen the fight against terrorism, the KNB prepared a number of initiatives.
They include laws that would, if enacted, mandate tougher penalties for terrorism and extremism, including participation in foreign wars like those in Syria and Iraq.
Second, if the KNB has its way, the sale of fully assembled firearms will become illegal.
Third, the owners of private security firms who fail to comply with counter-terrorism laws will face higher fines.
Fourth, the government plans to increase its monitoring of gun stores.
"The KNB is not considering the accretion of power for its officials," KNB spokesman Stanislav Menshikov said earlier in July, according to e-islam.kz. "Existing laws provide the authorisations they need."
Firm measures needed
The firmest measures are required in the current, "practically catastrophic" global situation, Abdullah Bakadyr, a Shymkent theologian and chairman of the NGO Nur-Mur, told Caravanserai.
That said, a firm approach does not always alleviate the situation, he said.
"Terrorists might answer with even more-barbaric attacks," he said. "But we shouldn't sit on our hands ... We need to keep fighting terrorism.
"One of the most effective ways to influence militants is to step up work with their families and loved ones ... who might report them to law enforcement in time [to stop them]."
"It's hard to disagree with the KNB," Almaty political scientist Talgat Kaliyev told Caravanserai. "In recent years, we've heard regularly about Kazakhstanis fighting in all sorts of wars -- from Syria to Ukraine."
"Judging by the number of [extremist recruiters], the law isn't a major deterrent," he said. "Increasing punishment would make sense."
"All wars end sooner or later," he said, referring to the Syrian and Iraqi wars and to the radicalised Kazakhstanis fighting in them. "Those soldiers of fortune will return home. It's not difficult to imagine how they'll make their living if their main skill is killing."
Reaching out to youth
"But even these measures are clearly inadequate to prevent radicalisation," Kaliyev said of the planned security measures. "First we need comprehensive youth employment and welfare programmes, active involvement of them in social and political processes, and more-vigorous outreach by the clergy and preventive work -- rather than punishment by law enforcement."
"It's essential to study and benefit from international experience in fighting terrorism," he said. "At the same time, we need our own people working on solutions."
"The punishment for terrorism and for radicalising incitement should be as severe as possible," Almaty resident Marina Mirzakhojayeva, 52, said.
"After all, these people are invading our lives, violating our laws and killing our loved ones," she said. "They should get penalties up to life in prison .... a terrorist can serve 5 to 10 years, but his ex-accomplices will be waiting for him."
"We can't allow it," she said. "We have to eradicate terrorism."