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Kazakh Officials Say Lone 'Islamist' Gunman Caught After Deadly Shootings

  • RFE/RL

Officials have launched an antiterror operation.

Officials have launched an antiterror operation.

Kazakh officials say they believe they have captured the lone gunman in multiple attacks that President Nursultan Nazarbaev described as a "terrorist act," which targeted police and left five people dead in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty.

The head of the country's National Security Committee identified the suspect as a 26-year-old man who adopted radical Islam during his incarceration on robbery and weapons-possession charges.

It is the second deadly attack in two months in the wealthiest of Central Asia's five post-Soviet republics, following a still largely unexplained rampage by dozens of young men in the northwestern city of Aqtobe that left at least 28 people dead. Officials blamed Isamists for that attack.

Nazarbaev ordered beefed-up security at public gathering places, but authorities declared the counterterrorism operation over and lowered the threat level from "red" to "yellow."

National Security Committee head Vladimir Zhumakanov was shown in an official video blaming Ruslan Kulikbaev for the July 18 attacks, which killed three officers and two civilians and wounded at least eight other people in the southeastern Kazakh city, the country's largest with around 1.7 million residents.

He said Kulikbaev "became close to Salafists" while in jail, a reference to a hard-line strain of Islam.*

Authorities had initially said they rounded up two suspects, but later described the other man as a motorist forced to drive the suspect between crime scenes.

Residents were initially asked to remain indoors, but the Interior Ministry said later on July 18 that "the situation in the city is stable and remains under control of law enforcement agencies," adding that "reports of gunfire in different parts of the city are untrue."

The attacks reportedly targeted a police station and a facility of the Kazakh Committee for National Security, and possibly a third location.

Early reports said the gunman lived in the Almaty region but was from Kazakhstan’s south-central Kyzylorda Province.

Authorities tied him to the slaying of a local woman over the weekend.

Extremist Threat

Border officials in two neighboring states to the south, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, announced they had increased security along their frontiers with Kazakhstan but the borders reportedly remained open.

Kazakh authorities have warned about the potential threat the country faces from Islamic extremism.

But tightly controlled by security services loyal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Kazakhstan has appeared to escape some of the most troubling signs of Islamic extremism besetting other countries in the region.

A small number of Kazakh nationals have departed to Syria and Iraq to join extremist groups there.

There have been incidents of violence connected to socioeconomic tensions amid yawning income disparities and an economic slowdown brought on by falling global oil and gas prices and recession in major trade partner Russia.

Outrage over an effort to overhaul laws on the ownership of agricultural land recently forced officials into postponing implementation of the reforms, a rare concession to public opinion in a country ruled by Nazarbaev since 1989.

* CORRECTION: This story has been amended to remove suggestion that Salafism is banned in Kazakhstan. It is not.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Reuters