Kazakhstan: Blasts Spark New Fears Over the Rise of Extremism

Early in the morning of October 31, 2011, two blasts occurred in the downtown district of Atyrau, the major city in Western Kazakhstan and the unofficial “oil capital” of the Central Asian country, which has long been boasting of itself as a showcase of inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance.

One of the explosions took place near the building of local prosecutor's office; the improvised explosive device was stored in a litter bin. The second blast hit the area next to the regional administration building; it was put into action by a suicide bomber, whose identity has not yet been revealed. No other casualties were reported.

The first news reports were messy and controversial – various news agencies and online publications quoted various sources and reported either on “rivers of blood” or on an “explosion of the [oil] pipeline”. Ironically, a high-profile media conference was taking place on that day in Almaty, the nation's commercial capital.

Atyrau, Kazakhstan. Image by Flickr user hellium666 (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Atyrau, Kazakhstan. Image by Flickr user hellium666 (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Marat Shibutov opined [ru]:

Today media representatives were at the conference and discussed their problems. Meanwhile, the whole country was not able to receive news from the downtown of Atyrau for 4-5 hours. No photos from the ground zero, no versions, no comments from the authorities. If it is such a problem to provide information from the big city, where most national media have their correspondents – let alone the local news outlets – then we will never know should a terrorist act happen in a smaller town…

The official information arrived shortly with the acknowledgement of a “self-blow-up”. It is a euphemism that the Kazakhstani authorities prefer to employ instead of “suicide bombing”. Sniprman gave [ru] an appreciating acknowledgement in return by saying that “at least, the authorities didn't play hide-and-seek, and reported the situation as is”.

Even after the official report, some bloggers were skeptical about the incident. Pycm68 tweeted [ru]:

Normal terrorists stuff themselves with bolts and nails, and go to crowded places. Their bosses then ring and assume responsibility […] In Kazakhstan they do it quietly, give no explanations and only the bomber dies. “Quo prodest?”, that is the question.

BioPsihoz reminded [ru]:

The blasts were preceded by two things. Last week the previously unknown Islamist group The Jund al Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) threatened to start jihad in Kazakhstan if the authorities don't curtail the new law on religion [aimed at restriction of activity of unauthorized religious groups].

Skeptics insisted that terrorist act can rarely be anonymous. Sniprman said [ru]:

Such statements [claiming responsibility for the acts] should emerge instantly. But I doubt anybody would assume responsibility for such an unfortunate incident.

But shortly afterwards, the same “Jund al Khilafah” claimed credit for the blasts. They noted that explosions were merely a warning, and hence not very traumatic, while the suicide bomber's death in a premature detonation was an accident.

Bill Roggio of the LongWarJournal blog wrote:

Soldiers of the Caliphate, a “brigade” of foreign fighters based along the Afghan-Pakistan border […] is known to have carried out attacks in Khost province, Afghanistan, which is a haven for the Haqqani Network.

It was not the first warning to the Kazakh authorities. In May 2011, the Taliban has warned Kazakhstan that its decision to send troops to the NATO-led war in Afghanistan “would have severe consequences”, and a suicide bomber exploded himself near the regional office of the National Security Committee in Aktobe, a provincial center in Western Kazakhstan (see GV coverage).

The local Muslim leaders in the person of Chief Imam of the Atyrau region Nurbeck Yesmagambet promptly refrained from any sort of terrorists and explained [ru] that extremists only use Islam as a cover. In comments to the news item Alexis backed the Imam's position:

Terrorists are usual bandits, who pretend to be Muslims. And bandits are to be treated with force – they don't understand otherwise.

Earlier this year, following the bombing attacks in Aktobe, investigators revealed that the extremists were directly involved in organized criminal group, which was smuggling petroleum from the oil-fields. Meanwhile, Scuko Zloi is displeased with the fact that the Kazakhstan president keeps silent after the blasts and continues his international tour:

Where is NAN [an anagram for President Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev]? Out under the warm sun of the United Arabian Emirates? Where are the country leader's statement on the incident?

Seke agrees:

Look at Russia – if anything like this happens there, president or prime-minister are quick to react […] Our leaders are visible only on conferences and celebrations.

Steissd comments [ru] from the neighboring Russia:

It has always seemed that Kazakhs, albeit being Muslims, treat Islam not fanatically, but just as an element of their routine and spiritual culture. Everything changesб and Atyrau blasts appeared to be “Islam-rooted”. The only hope is that Nazarbayev would forget about political correctness and deal shortly with the newly emerged jihadis…

Megakhuimyak has his version [ru] of explanation of the developments – and the outcomes:

The reason of the blasts in Atyrau is simple – in late August a whole group of 30 terrorists was detained there. By the way, they already possessed IEDs and had ties with Pakistan and Afghanistan, to where they were sending people for training. Apparently, not all of them were arrested then. The rest are now taking revenge.

In fact, the terrorist wahhabi underground has declared war on the state. They would probably use the Dagestani scenario – killing officials and siloviks. Besides, the government will have to solve issues with the “bearded” guys within the elites […] and with various sorts of Islamic foundations, Islamic universities etc.


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