Crime & Justice

Kazakhstan puts extremism, terror suspects on trial

By Alexander Bogatik

A Kazakhstani special forces member September 23 in Almaty Province arrests a hypothetical terrorist in a counter-terrorism drill. [TV screenshot by Alexander Bogatik]

A Kazakhstani special forces member September 23 in Almaty Province arrests a hypothetical terrorist in a counter-terrorism drill. [TV screenshot by Alexander Bogatik]

ALMATY -- Justice is coming for terrorism suspects throughout Kazakhstan.

Trials are taking place in Aktobe and Almaty, which suffered deadly terrorist attacks June 5 and July 18, respectively, media reported.

In Aktobe October 25, a local court sent three men to prison for sentences ranging from 8 to 12 years, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

The main defendant, Nurlan Omirbekov, was "guilty of fomenting terrorism and religious extremism, kidnapping, robbery, extortion, and inciting hatred", the court found, according to RFE/RL.

In Aktobe, courts are trying or have tried 29 individuals -- nine accused terrorists and 20 defendants accused of failing to report the impending deadly attack in that town and of harbouring the perpetrators, sources in the Aktobe Specialised Criminal Court told Caravanserai.

One defendant in Almaty is being tried in jail because authorities consider him "aggressive" and an escape risk, sources at the Almaty Specialised Criminal Court told Caravanserai. Almaty has six defendants on trial.

The trials in the two cities began October 17-18.

The June 5 attack in Aktobe left seven or eight security personnel and civilians dead, depending on the source. Authorities in the succeeding days killed 18 extremists involved in the violence.

Repercussions among authorities

Authorities face investigation too. The General Prosecutor's Office October 11 opened a criminal case against leaders of the Aktobe city police department for failing to stop terrorists from fleeing the scene.

In Almaty, the most prominent defendant is Ruslan Kulekbayev, whom police call the mastermind of a massacre that left eight law enforcement personnel and two civilians dead. His five suspected accomplices face charges of making firearms.

Kulekbayev is the defendant whom Almaty police consider the greatest flight risk.

Punishment is undetermined

Kazakhstan has observed a moratorium on death sentences since December 2003, so unless something changes drastically, lifelong prison terms are the most severe punishment facing the defendants.

"In recent years, all terrorists who attacked our country have been punished," Shymkent civic leader Leila Baimanova, who heads the NGO Golden Swallow (Altyn Karlygash), told Caravanserai. "They either were killed ... or went to jail."

"Life imprisonment is an adequate alternative to the firing squad" for the suspects, she concluded.

Arrests continue

Even this autumn, police are making arrests. On October 10 in Almaty, they prevented terrorist attacks by arresting three male extremists who sought to kill police and security agency personnel, the National Security Committee (KNB) said recently.

The defendants are 17, 20 and 34.

Among their terrorist supplies, the police found a map of Almaty city with KNB offices and police stations marked, the KNB said.

More ominous, the defendants had substances like "saltpetre and aluminum powder" for making bombs, a police inspector from Almaty who requested anonymity told Caravanserai.

In Almaty alone in 2016 so far, authorities have busted 29 suspected radicals, police say.

So far in Kazakhstan this year, courts have convicted 28 individuals of terrorism, including the three sentenced in Aktobe October 25, according to the KNB.

Lawmakers consider reforms

Members of parliament are mulling ways to reform the law to defeat terrorism.

On October 18, the senate (upper chamber) hosted a parliamentary discussion on ways to implement the government's plan for fighting terrorism.

"As the Aktobe terrorist attacks showed, extremists and terrorists congregate in apartments to conduct propaganda and to store their materials, literature and weapons," Maulen Ashimbayev, a member of the Majlis (lower chamber) said during that discussion, according to Tengri News.

One day later, during a session of the Majlis, lawmakers considered ways to fight terrorism.

"We need to establish special prisons or special cellblocks ... for convicted terrorists and extremists to quarantine radical ideas," Irina Smirnova, a member of the Majlis, said, according to Kazakhstanskaya Pravda.

Extremists also recruit ex-cons once they are out of jail, Smirnova warned, saying the organisations find jobs and housing -- even wives -- for such individuals.

"Many ex-inmates are likelier to find financial and psychological support from extremist groups than from ... the rest of society," she said.

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