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Kazakh Authorities Still Chasing Suspects In Aqtobe Attacks

An image from social media purporting to show dead bodies after a shoot-out in Aqtobe on June 5.
An image from social media purporting to show dead bodies after a shoot-out in Aqtobe on June 5.

Kazakh authorities are still searching for at least six surviving suspects after deadly weekend attacks in western Kazakhstan that left 19 people dead and dozens more injured.

Police say 13 of those reported dead so far are thought to have been among the attackers on June 5, when two gun shops and a National Guard base in Aqtobe were stormed and three civilians and three National Guardsmen were killed. At least five more suspects are said to be in custody.

The incidents put the Aqtobe region on high alert, and "counterterror operations" have continued as authorities closed down some businesses and encouraged people to remain indoors. One neighborhood of Aqtobe, a regional hub with between 300,000 and 400,000 residents, has remained cordoned off with security inspections of those who enter and leave.

The Interior Ministry early on June 7 published the names and photographs of 14 fugitives it said were wanted in connection with the attacks.

The ministry said that "the situation in Aqtobe and the rest of the republic is under control" but that law-enforcement agencies across the country remained on alert.

There did not appear to be any credible claim of responsibility for the attacks, which marked a rare burst of violence in the tightly controlled and relatively prosperous post-Soviet state of around 18 million people.

Officials have issued seemingly confused statements about the suspects and possible motives.

Kazakh police spokesman Almas Sadubaev said the attackers were suspected to be followers of "nontraditional religious movements," a term often used in Central Asia to describe Islamic extremist groups.

Senators in Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament, meanwhile, condemned the events as a "foul criminal attack" against the country's peace and stability, but said the perpetrators' actions had "nothing to do with religion."

A deputy chairman of the country's dominant Nur Otan party said on June 7 that his party was considering responses that include bills to close gun shops. Such businesses, Mukhtar Qul-Mukhammad said, "must be closed across the country."

The attackers in the June 5 incidents raided gun shops to supply themselves with weapons.

Access to the Internet was restored in Aqtobe on June 7, after being blocked since the weekend, and officials said local businesses and public transport had resumed their normal operation in the city.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, but public discontent has appeared to rise amid economic woes brought on by the falling price of oil and gas and slowing trade with neighboring Russia.

Kazakhstan witnessed major protests against planned agricultural-land reforms in April and May. More than 1,000 activists were detained around those demonstrations, and many received 10-15-day jail sentences after being convicted of planning or attending the unsanctioned rallies.

With reporting by, Interfax, and Reuters
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