Special task force created in Aktobe Province to prevent extremism

By Alexander Bogatik

Anti-extremism advocacy group members attend a seminar in Aktobe July 15. [Alexander Bogatik]

Anti-extremism advocacy group members attend a seminar in Aktobe July 15. [Alexander Bogatik]

AKTOBE, Kazakhstan -- Officials in Aktobe Province are conducting a task force meant to prevent more terrorist tragedies.

The province and all of Kazakhstan were shocked June 5 when a gang of extremists killed eight people in Aktobe city. The terrorists attacked two gun stores and a military base.

Troops and police eventually killed or arrested all the suspects.

In the aftermath, the provincial government moved swiftly to form the anti-extremism task force, according to the provincial governor's press office.

Its task is to identify potential flash-points of extremism in the province.

"We need to draw the appropriate conclusions and ... prevent such a tragedy from occurring again," Aktobe Province Governor Berdybek Saparbayev said in Aktobe July 1 during a meeting with Erlan Karin, director of the Astana-based Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, according to B News. "The working group ... is analysing it and clarifying the causes."

Keeping up with the times

Authorities fighting extremism need to keep up with technological advances, Karin said, noting that 10 years ago, a common topic of discussion was the need to block extremist websites.

Extremists long ago dodged such a remedy by using instant messages and social media to proselytise, he said.

Such ideologies "resemble viruses", Karin said at the meeting. "How do we remove this virus of the consciousness?"

The working group includes theologians, other scholars and imams.

Their tools will include polling, public meetings and observation of activities in mosques, officials say.

"We brought new specialists on board to help us," a source at the provincial Administration for Religious Affairs told Caravanserai.

Tight security

On the ground, authorities have tightened security to discourage future attacks.

Officials of the provincial counter-terrorism commission and the provincial Council for Relations with Religious Organisations June 22 in Aktobe discussed security for vital facilities, according to

During the meeting, provincial police chief Makhsudkhan Ablazimov reported on precautions taken by police. Since the beginning of 2016, police inspected more than 110 facilities on a list of those vulnerable to terrorist attack. They include power stations, hospitals and other installations that keep society functioning.

They issued 104 warnings of security violations, he said.

Saparbayev, the provincial governor, gave various instructions, such as adding more facilities in need of protection to the list and stepping up efforts to equip such facilities with video surveillance, "panic buttons" and other security features.

The Emergency Situations Ministry helps law enforcement protect those facilities in Kazakhstan.

"On June 28, the Zhambyl Province Department of Emergency Situations (DES) hosted a roundtable," Jomart Sadirmekov, a major in the DES in Zhambyl Province, told Caravanserai. "Spokespersons from facilities that receive large numbers of visitors explained the need ... to install local public address [PA] systems."

Such systems, including sirens and loudspeakers, enable authorities to warn the public of threats.

Similar meetings are taking place throughout all of Kazakhstan's provinces, because PA systems could save hundreds of lives, Sadirmekov said.

Preventive work goes on

Meanwhile, an Aktobe Province think tank, Ansar, continues the hard work of studying religious developments in the province and carrying out anti-extremism work.

Ansar has held about 1,000 outreach events so far this year, according to media. It also engages Kazakhstani citizens on the internet.

The work of anti-extremism groups like Ansar needs to be "as effective as possible", Saparbayev said during the June 22 meeting of the provincial counter-terrorism commission and religious council, according to

He urged law enforcement, intelligence agencies, local governments and the public to work together.

Another participant at the June 22 discussion gave his views.

The most effective outreach to extremists consists of "individual meetings and discussions", Bauirjan Yesmakhan, director of the provincial Administration for Religious Affairs, said, according to

That hard work has helped authorities in Aktobe Province bring more than 190 extremists back to traditional Islam, he said.

Preventive work is the job of many hands in Kazakhstan, Yuliya Denisenko, director of the Kazakhstani Association of Centres for the Study of Religions, told Caravanserai. "Informational and preventive groups at national and provincial level, government officials ... private specialists ... conduct such work," she said.

About 500 groups conduct anti-radicalism work in Kazakhstan, she said.

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