Police battle suspected Islamic militants near Almaty, Kazakhstan

Kazakh Special Forces have fought a gun battle with suspected militant Islamists in a village outside Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, the latest violence to hit Central Asia’s biggest oil exporter.

By James Kilner, Almaty

04 Dec 2011

Police battle suspected Islamic militants near Almaty, KazakhstanSeven people died in the gun battle, two Kazakh Special Forces officers and five militants, a spokesman for the prosecutor-general said on Sunday. The shootout lasted several hours to around midnight on Saturday.

He also said that the security services in Almaty have since boosted their forces to counter any potential further violence.

“The security forces for the Almaty city and region have moved onto a strengthened service regime but the situation is under full control,” the AFP news agency quoted the spokesman as saying.

“There are no threats to the population or cause for worry.”

Last month a gunman suspected of being an Islamic radical killed seven people in Taraz, southern Kazakhstan, before blowing himself up. That attack shifted violence linked to Islamic militants east from the oil producing regions on the shores of the Caspian Sea to the centre of the country.

Police patrols in Almaty have since been stepped up and the city’s residents now openly discuss when Islamic militants will strike.

The militants killed in Saturday’s operation were suspected of being behind the murder of two policemen in Almaty in October.

Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev has ordered his police force to intensify their efforts to crackdown on Islamic militants. He has been in power since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has carefully built up Kazakhstan’s reputation for stability, a reputation he wants to protect.

An Islamic group has said it is attacking Kazakhstan because the authorities have unfairly pressured Muslims.