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Kazakhstan: Claims Of Terrorist Network Unsettle Activists

(RFE/RL) The National Security Committee of Kazakhstan claims it has uncovered a terrorist plot targeting the country's infrastructure that was being orchestrated from abroad. The committee member in charge of countering international terrorism, Sergei Minenkov, announced on April 19 that a major security operation cracked a "criminal gang set up for terrorist activities" that was also monitoring Kyrgyz political activities. But his suggestion that the gang was closely following opposition groups has at least one such organization worried.

PRAGUE, April 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Minenkov's announcement has been interpreted by some as an attempt to convince Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev that the National Security Committee remains vigilant and effective.

The president had made a vague public call on April 18 for security services to intensify efforts to ensure national security.

Minenkov said the operation led to 10 arrests, and that authorities found weapons along with books and tapes promoting radical religious views. Group members were also tasked with recruiting Kazakh citizens and setting up bases for training militants, he said.

Foreign Backing

Minenkov said searches in the commercial capital, Almaty, also uncovered letters from foreign-based organizers offering instructions on potential targets.

"Foreign ideologists of terrorism recommended attacking public places and [strategically important] infrastructure facilities," he claimed.

Minenkov said other documents included instructions for making explosive devices and maps of potential targets. He didn't single out any particular group, but he did make a reference to the recent trial of members of the outlawed Zhamaat Mujahedin of Central Asia.

Opposition Fears

But Minenkov's claim that the terrorist ring was set up in part to monitor opposition activities sent a different message to the administration's already-beleaguered political opponents.

Minenkov was careful to avoid saying that any opposition party or movement was involved with the alleged terrorists. But some members of the For a Just Kazakhstan movement regard his comments as an attempt to link the opposition to terrorism.

For a Just Kazakhstan's Serikbai Alibaev stressed that there are no grounds for such a conclusion and called for an investigation of the National Security Committee.

"The [National Security Committee's] accusation against the opposition -- that it could have joined [the terrorist group] -- is nothing less than blame based on nothing," Alibaev said. "According to our laws and the constitution, law-enforcement agencies immediately should open a case against [the National Security Committee] and start an investigation. They should be brought to court for saying that -- they are violating our constitution."

The movement's Zauresh Battalova hinted that the National Security Committee was following instructions to discredit the opposition.

"The [National Security Committee] is a tool in the hands of the authorities," Battalova said. "Today, the [National Security Committee] is following the authorities' order to discredit those who really care about people [in order] to stop them."

Doubts Of Their Own

Battalova countered with her own accusations against the National Security Committee. She alluded to the recent killings of two opposition leaders, and the resignation of former Security Committee Chairman Nurtai Dutbaev after six officers from the National Security Committee's special Arystan unit were arrested over the killing of Ak Zhol co-Chairman Altynbek Sarsenbaev in February.

"It's the [National Security Committee] that should be brought to justice," Battalova said. "They have to answer for their activities, the activities of the [special] Arystan unit, and the deaths of Altynbek [Sarsenbaev] and Zamanbek [Nurkadilov]. Problems cannot be solved by Dutbaev's resignation alone."

Kazakhstan has apprehended terrorists before. But in those cases, they were suspects sought by Russia or Uzbek authorities. Minenkov's revelation that a terrorist group was operating in Kazakhstan, intent on carrying out attacks there, represents a new and potentially disturbing chapter for Kazakhs.

(Edige Magauin of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)

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