Kazakhstani security agencies prepare to confront terrorists

By Alexander Bogatik

Kazakhstani forces perform counter-terrorism exercises at Spassk October 15. [Defence Ministry photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

Kazakhstani forces perform counter-terrorism exercises at Spassk October 15. [Defence Ministry photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Counter-terrorism exercises are taking place in many of Kazakhstan's cities.

The effort comes as the country remembers deadly terrorist attacks that hit Aktobe June 5 and Almaty July 18.

Authorities notify the public "so that nobody panics or spreads misinformation", a source at the country's Anti-Terrorism Centre told Caravanserai. "We are working through different scenarios so that the exercises resemble combat conditions as closely as possible."

Rehearsing various scenarios

From October 21 to November 2, Astana counter-terrorism headquarters conducted several exercises in the capital.

"We practiced operations among investigative teams, local police motor patrols and special forces," a source at the Astana police press office told Caravanserai.

More exercises took place November 3 at the Astana exhibition centre that will be hosting the EXPO-2017 trade fair, the National Security Committee (KNB) press office said.

"We understand that traffic could be blocked on some streets," Astana resident Andrei Boncharov told Caravanserai. "During that time it might be best to avoid some parts of the city."

The exercises inspire hope that terrorist attacks will not recur, he said.

"Efforts by security agencies and the police give us hope that tragedy will not happen again, and that nobody's loved ones will suffer at the hands of terrorists," Boncharov said.

Other drills

Away from the capital as well, exercises are keeping authorities on their toes.

Special forces sharpened their skills in Karaganda Province October 25. Scenarios included a terrorist attack on a prison, the terrorist seizure of a school and the slaying of police officers.

When hypothetical terrorists tried to take hostages as human shields to an airport, special forces "killed" all the terrorists.

Participants were glad to help.

"We are pleased that we participated in these exercises," Natavan Abushova, the principal of Public School No. 14 in Abai, told Kazazkhstanskaya Pravda. "The staff and students conducted them properly."

In Pavlodar October 21, counter-terrorism drills took place at a power plant and a Palace of Culture

"They were focused on suppressing a potential terrorist attack and cleaning up the consequences," a source at Pavlodar counter-terrorism headquarters told Caravanserai.

Other exercises took place in Baikonur October 27 and in Kokshetau October 28.

Such exercises take place regularly, Arman Aknazarov of Astana, a specialist with the Department of Emergency Situations, told Caravanserai.

The drills "involve emergency responders, medical personnel and the public alert system", he added.

Thwarting extremists from joining ISIL

Besides practice, security agencies have deadly serious business: keeping an eye on militants who fight in Syria or Iraq and then come home.

Many such returnees "retain extremely radical reviews and possess specific skills and combat experience", KNB Deputy Chairman Nurgali Bilisbekov said during a September 22 Astana roundtable on fighting terrorism. "We treat the risk of their committing terrorist attacks here ... as quite high."

Since 2011, authorities have kept about 600 Kazakhstanis from going to Syria to fight along the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), the KNB says.

Several hundred Kazakhstanis are fighting in the Middle East.

Frequently those already there try to summon friends and relatives.

Authorities are regularly sending extremists to prison. They include Ekibastuz resident Timur Mukhamejanov, who in June was sentenced to four years for trying to join the war in Syria. Authorities nabbed him at the Kazakhstani-Kyrgyz border.

In the past few years, Kazakhstani authorities have repatriated 45 Kazakhstani militants against their will to face punishment in court.

However, barring Kazakhstanis from "leaving for the Syrian war zone can have negative consequences", Rauan Dautaliyev, a Shymkent civic leader and political scientist, told Caravanserai.

Materials from the court case against surviving suspects makes clear that the suspected ringleader of the deadly June 5 terrorist attack in Aktobe, Dmitrii Tanatarov, orchestrated the massacre because he could not leave Kazakhstan to join ISIL, Dautaliyev said.

The Aktobe attack left seven Kazakhstanis dead. Tanatarov is in custody awaiting trial.

"We can't allow Kazakhstani citizens to participate in terrorist acts abroad," Dautaliyev added. "Sooner or later they send them back home ... to organise terrorist attacks here."

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