By Dana Rysmukhamedova (AFP) – Nov 12, 2011
ASTANA — Seven people were killed on Saturday in the southern Kazakh city of Taraz when a suspected Islamist went on a shooting rampage and then blew himself up, officials said.
Kazakh prosecutors said they had opened a case into "acts of terrorism" after the shootings by a lone gunman, one of the deadliest attacks for years in a country known as being the most stable in the turbulent Central Asia region.
"A follower of jihadism carried out a series of especially grave crimes which led to the death of seven people, including five members of the security forces," Kazakhstan's deputy prosecutor general Nurmukhanbet Isayev said.
He told reporters in the capital Astana that the man -- named as Kariyev and born in 1977 -- had started his rampage mid-morning by shooting dead two members of the security forces who had been trailing him.
The man then hijacked a car and raided a weapons' store, killing its security guard and a passer-by.
After stealing two rifles from the shop, he killed another two police who were trying to apprehend him and also seized their weapons, Isayev said. He took potshots at the building of Kazakhstan's security service but was then apprehended by a unit of transport police.
"During the attempts to disarm him, Kariyev blew himself up and, as a result, the police captain who arrested him died on the spot," Isayev said.
He said a criminal probe had been opened into murder and "terrorist acts". The authorities did not include the dead gunman in the final death toll of seven.
A local resident in Taraz told an AFP correspondent in Astana that the usually quiet city of 400,000 was in panic with shops and offices in the city centre shut and people largely staying at home out of fear.
The head of the Zhambyl region where Taraz is located appeared on local television to assure locals that the authorities had the situation under "strict control".
Kanat Bozymbayev said there was "no reason for panic" in Taraz, the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency reported.
Kazakhstan, which this month passed a new law tightening control over religious organisations, has seen an unprecedented spate of small-scale attacks over the last year blamed on Islamist extremists.
The attack comes after a suspected extremist accidentally blew himself up in the western Kazakh city of Atyrau on the Caspian Sea on October 31.
An Islamist group called Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) said it was behind that incident and another blast that took place on the same day in Atyrau.
Kazakh prosecutors last week confirmed that the group was to blame for the Atyrau explosions and warned that its members wanted to "unleash jihad on the territory of Kazakhstan".
Such unrest has until recently been highly unusual in majority Muslim but secular Kazakhstan, which under strongman leader Nursultan Nazarbayev has earned a reputation as by far the most stable country in Central Asia.
The Atyrau blasts followed a warning from the group over the new Kazakh ban on religious ceremonies in state institutions and a requirement that religious groups and missionaries re-register with the government of the ex-Soviet state.
The GKNB state security service in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, just to the south of Taraz, said they were ready to tighten border security if the situation in Taraz worsened.
"The most recent events in Kazakhstan show that no-one is immune to terrorism and extremism," said GKNB chief Keneshbek Dushebayev.
Around 70 percent of Kazakhstan's 16.5 million people are Muslims and Kazakh authorities have repeatedly expressed concern about Islamic extremism sweeping in from other Central Asian states and Afghanistan.
But critics warn that the new law -- signed last month by Nazarbayev -- could have the opposite effect by increasing the militancy of banned religious groups.
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