ASTANA -- Authorities in Kazakhstan say they have detained 16 suspected members of a banned Islamic group during a major security operation in three parts of the predominantly Muslim Central Asian country.
The National Security Committee (KNB) said on December 21 that it had launched a counterterrorism operation targeting suspected cells of Takfir wal-Hijra, which is on lists of terrorist organizations in Russia, the United States, and several other countries.
The KNB released few details about the operation, which it said is being conducted in Almaty -- Kazakhstan's biggest city -- as well as the Almaty, Aqtobe, and Atyrau regions.
Takfir wal-Hijra (Excommunication and Exodus) emerged in Egypt in the 1960s and is believed to have links with Al-Qaeda.
The group was banned in Kazakhstan in 2014.
Critics of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's government say the authorities sometimes use allegations of extremism as a pretext to suppress dissent.