Kazakh city of Almaty on terror alert after gunman kills five in attacks

Kazakh city of Almaty on terror alert after gunman kills five in attacks
Witnesses report heavy police presence in Almaty
By bne IntelliNews July 18, 2016

Kazakhstan has declared a “red terror alert” in the city of Almaty after a gunman with Islamist links killed five, including three police officers, in attacks on July 18. The attacker was arrested and police later detained a suspected accomplice, the ministry’s press service said.

Terrorism is on the rise in Kazakhstan, where a court sentenced 12 men to jail terms earlier this month for wanting to join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and a planned terrorist attack was narrowly thwarted earlier in July. The shootings took place little more than a month after the mainly Muslim central Asian country suffered its deadliest attack, in which more than 20 people were killed when Islamist militants attacked a gun shop and a military base in western city of Aktobe. At least 200 other Kazakhs are fighting alongside terrorist groups in Syria, according to some estimates.

The attacker was identified as a 27-year old former convict, who was wanted for the murder of a woman earlier this month, Bnews.kz news website reports. A second suspect remained on the loose for several hours, but was eventually arrested. In a statement, the interior ministry described him as being "close" to the initial suspect. He was later identified as a taxi driver, who drove the attacker around the city under duress. The attacker staged at least three separate attacks in the city before being detained. He attacked a police station and an office belonging to the national security committee KNB.

The July 18 attack began when the 27-year-old gunman opened fire on police officers, seeking revenge for the time he spent in prison, Defence Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov said in a press conference on July 18. “During his time spent in prison he nursed a grudge against police officers and decided to take revenge upon them,” the minister said, explaining that the information had surfaced during interrogations. 

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has called the incident a "terrorist attack" after convening an emergency security council meeting on July 18.  

Residents of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, were told to stay at home during the anti-terrorism operation. Police blocked access to several streets in the city’s centre, including one near an office of KNB, where shots were also heard. 

The authorities declared a “red” alert, allowing police to restrict the movement of vehicles and to search properties. The alert was later lowered to “yellow” after the operation was completed, KNB said.

Kazakhstan has stepped up security after the deadly attacks in Aktobe in early June. Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev blamed the Aktobe attacks on followers of radical pseudo-religious movements, who “received instructions from abroad”.

The country has been experiencing an unprecedented surge in protest mood amid the ongoing economic crisis, which has resulted in a plunge in the living standards of ordinary Kazakhs. Protests against the land reform, which started in the western oil city of Atyrau on April 24 and quickly spread to other cities, have been blamed by authorities on “third forces” abroad who had allegedly aimed to destabilise the country. Authorities are now investigating criminal cases into an attempted coup d’etat.

Observers believe that social discontent with the deteriorating economic conditions and the government’s increasingly authoritarian style of management will continue to manifest in outbreaks of protests.