Kazakhstan Islamist Militancy on the Rise

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 4

Kazakhstan Today reported on February 11 that police in the Manghistau region arrested a militant from a Wahhabi organization Taza Islam (Pure Islam). They also confiscated audiotapes, extremist literature, leaflets calling to perpetrate terrorist acts, some explosives — a sack of carbide and toluene cartridges — and a firearm, during a search in the suspect’s apartment. This makes a total of 15 alleged Wahhabis and 20 members of Tabligi Jamaat arrested in the region since 2000, according to the region’s police department (www.gazeta.kz).

The arrest and seizure of material is all the more notable since Kazakhstan so far has been spared Islamist violence. Its experience thus far has been largely confined to arrests of Uzbek extremists lying low in the sparsely populated country to their north. Up to now Kazakhstan has been sensitive to the political activism of the Hizb ut-Tahrir. On February 8, Almaty police closed down a “printing-house” and arrested two members of the banned party along with a haul of 12,000 political leaflets (www.gazeta.kz). This followed the detention two weeks earlier of about 40 Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters who had demonstrated outside Almaty’s central mosque as a challenge to the Islamic authorities, which they consider over-dependent on the government. Indications are that Hizb ut-Tahrir activity is accelerating in Kazakhstan. It is certainly highly active in the Southern Kazakh oblast, where its activities among Uzbek émigrés are an extension of its core strengths in Uzbekistan.

Kazakhstan’s relatively lax approach to the Islamist phenomenon came under criticism in a February 7 report carried by the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. In the report, the head of the Tashkent-based Shanghai Security Organization deplored the existence on Kazakh soil of “territories bought up by firms belonging to bin Laden” and complained that, unlike in Russia and Uzbekistan, no law to prevent terrorism financing had been passed in Kazakhstan (www.ng.ru). Authorities in Almaty reacted angrily to the accusations, arguing that “there have never been terrorist bases or training camps on Kazakh territory.” This despite testimony in a Tashkent trial of Uzbeks suspected of bombing the U.S. and Israeli embassies, where defendants spoke of their military training at a terrorist camp on Kazakh soil. Despite official denials of such activity, it is difficult to conceive of how authorities could prevent infiltration of Uzbek Islamist militants into a vast country of only 15 million people, whose bordering province supports a 20 percent Uzbek ethnicity increasingly vulnerable to radicalization through feelings of discrimination and exclusion from mainstream Kazakh politics.