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Trial Of Alleged Illegal Oil Sellers, Islamic Extremists Starts In Kazakhstan

AQTOBE, Kazakhstan -- Security was tight as the trial of several dozen people accused of illegal oil sales, some of whom are also charged with religious extremism, got under way in Kazakhstan.

Police cordoned off the Aqtobe Regional Court building before the high-profile trial started in the northern city on November 20.

The trial is being held behind closed doors, and the exact number of suspects has not been made public.

Investigators say some of the defendants are followers of the Salafi branch of Islam, which the secular authorities in mostly Muslim Kazakhstan consider extremist. Authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbaev's government began moves to ban Salafism in October 2016 but has not put the prohibition in place.

The suspects were arrested in December 2016 during a large-scale security operation held several days after a court in Aqtobe sentenced 29 men charged in connection with shooting attacks in June to lengthy prison sentences. The government blamed the attacks on Islamic militants.

Eighteen alleged attackers, five civilians, and three members of Kazakhstan's security forces were killed in the June 2016 violence.

Critics of Nazarbaev's government say the Kazakh authorities sometimes wrongly accuse groups of Muslims of extremism and inaccurately blame extremists for crimes.

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