ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan’s security forces have detained a group of extremists who had planned “acts of terror” in the oil-producing region of Atyrau, local prosecutors said in a report on Wednesday.
The report is a rare official admission of such threats in Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest and most successful economy which has always stressed its stability contrasting the volatility of its regional ex-Soviet neighbours.
“On August 29, security forces disrupted the activity of a terrorist group, and 18 people were detained,” the prosecutor’s office in Atyrau in western Kazakhstan said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters.
“During the detention, one of the members of this gang put up staunch resistance and was destroyed.”
Kazakhstan, where 70 percent of the 16.5 million population are Muslim, has so far avoided the militant Islamist violence that has hit other parts of Central Asia, a region that borders Afghanistan.
But a recent series of unexplained explosions and shootouts with well-armed gunmen in various parts of the country have unnerved the authorities of Kazakhstan, run by strongman President Nursultan Nazarbayev for more than 20 years.
Interfax news agency quoted Atyrau Prosecutor Sayfulla Kamalov as telling a news briefing earlier on Wednesday that the detainees were all men living in the region who had also planned attacks in other parts of the country.
Kamalov said that components of an explosive device, religious literature and firearms had been found at the house of the man who had been shot dead.
“To date, the above-mentioned 18 persons have been charged with ‘creating, leading and taking part in the activities of a terrorist group’,” the statement said.
It gave no further details. “The criminal situation in the region remains stable, and all institutions, organisations and enterprises work as usual,” the report said. “Security bodies are taking all necessary measures to safeguard public security.”
Earlier this month, Kazakhstan temporarily blocked access to a number of foreign Internet sites, including the popular blogging space LiveJournal, after a court ruled they were propagating terrorism and inciting religious hatred.
Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Tim Pearce