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Kazakhstan strives to understand extremists

By Alexander Bogatik

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A wanted poster for a suspected extremist adorns a utility pole in Shymkent October 16. [Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Government officials and scholars in Kazakhstan are working to compile a "profile" of the extremist personality.

Understanding such personalities will help fight terrorism, specialists say.

"We have composed the typical social and psychological portrait of a radical," Prosecutor General Zhakip Asanov said in Aktobe Province October 28, while summarising a month-long province-wide research project "In the interests of public safety", the Tengrinews website reported that day.

A proper understanding of extremists will enable Kazakhstan to adjust its methods for fighting terrorism, Asanov said.

The marginalised become extremists

"We know ... that behind an extremist's image is either a common criminal or a marginalised member of society," Asanov said during the Aktobe conference. "Many of them don't understand Islam, haven't read the Koran ... and reject family values and state institutions."

Kazakhstani scholars have attempted before to analyse terrorism-related crimes and to form a psychological profile of extremists. In 2014, the Astana-based Centre for Security Programmes analysed terrorism-related criminal cases from 2004 to 2013 and interviewed the extremists convicted in those cases, as well as their relatives.

Three of four convicted terrorists were unemployed, the study found. Fifty-five percent were aged 17 to 29 when convicted. Most had a high-school or vocational school diploma, but some had finished only a few years of elementary school.

The scholars analysing Kazakhstani extremists have divided them into three categories: those belonging to groups created by foreign terrorist organisations, those in groups formed by youths attending religious schools, and common criminals who became radicalised over time.

"We need to understand the kind of social milieu that terrorists emerge from," Amangeldy Aitali, a professor from Aktobe, said on the TV channel Kazakhstan June 10. "In my opinion, this is a man, about 26 years old, poor, unemployed, uneducated, bitter and lost in society."

"The radicals I've seen can be described as not having found their way in life and resentful towards everyone," Zhambyl Province theologian Sanjar Suleimenov told Caravanserai. "If they had an established daily routine, a job they loved and a strong family, then they would have rejected radical ideas and would not subject their families to risk."

Extremists exploit youths' romanticism and desire to make something of themselves, Nazerke Miyatova, chairwoman of the Almaty NGO Akyl, said.

Young people "divide the world into black and white", she told Caravanserai. "They ... want to change the world. ... With certain indoctrination, they can be turned into suicide bombers."

Pilot project demonstrates its effectiveness

The Aktobe Province "In the interests of public safety" research project has given scholars and officials more material to consider. Many agencies, including the Prosecutor General's Office, participated.

"We held discussions with certain followers of radical Islam and persuaded some of them that they made errors in judgment," Asanov said November 2 in Astana at another news conference on the project's results, according to Zakon.kz. "We told members of the younger generation about terrorist recruiting methods and psychological techniques. We prepared more than 700 teachers and trainers for work in identifying adherents of radicalism."

"This summer's events showed that there are young people inclined toward extremism who are willing to kill civilians ... to advance false religious ideals," Gulnaz Razydkova, director of the Pavlodar-based Centre for the Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations, told Caravanserai, referring to deadly terrorist attacks in Aktobe and Almaty.

"Their relatives denounce them, but some people to this day justify these terrorists' acts," she added.

Extensive work

The month-long anti-extremism project in Aktobe Province included 2,600 events attended by 145,000 people, according to the Prosecutor General's Office.

Authorities, appalled by a June 5 attack in Aktobe city that left seven troops and civilians dead, are eager to prevent a recurrence. The project included training of imams and social and economic assistance to the public.

The assistance rendered to the public "reached one sixth of the province's residents", the General Prosecutor's press office said in an October 28 statement. "We paid particular attention to children, women, senior citizens, the disabled, large and low-income families, convicts and followers of radical movements."

Authorities, as part of the project, held job fairs. Meanwhile, Kazakhstani TV channels began airing anti-terrorism public service announcements.

Asanov has suggested creating anti-extremism ads on Kazakhstan's portion of the internet.

In efforts to step up security, Aktobe Province saw about 200 large-scale efforts to inspect vital facilities' security and to educate the public, law enforcement and mass media about reaction to and news coverage of crises, the General Prosecutor's Office said.

Some observers are calling for an extensive effort to shield youth from extremist messages.

"A Kazakh proverb says, 'Raising a child begins at the cradle'," Ainur Abdirasilkyzy, director of an in-house think tank for the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, told Caravanserai. "We must not regard the problem of shielding youth from radical ideology as something outside this principle."

It is essential to extensively inform youth and to protect them from radical recruitment, she said, as well as to involve youth organisations in such work.

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All of us Alhamdulillah Muslims in Kazakhstan should openly fight against this satanic evil in our society - deceitful Salafites claiming to be the Sunnah of Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Hiding behind the credibility of peaceful Islam in our midst, this sect sows discord among us, making fitnahs in mosques, secretly arranging behind-the-scenes plots against imams and preachers, calling Muslims misguided in their faith or even kafirs. The state needs to clear society of such bearded scum. Only evil comes from them!

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