Kazakhstan’s National Security Service (KNB) is continuing to crack down heavily on the activities of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Party of Liberation. According to the KNB press service, on August 24 intelligence officers disrupted a cell of the banned religious party in Mangistau Region (western Kazakhstan). Five members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir cell were detained “during a regular clandestine meeting at a flat belonging to one of them. As a result of searches, two computers and a substantial amount of extremist literature were seized.” This included 100 journals and brochures, more than 400 leaflets, and 65 CDs. “It has been established that the party cell in Zhanaozen [a town in the region] was set up in 2006 on an order from Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaders in Kazakhstan, who are now on trial in Karaganda,” the press service reported. Some members of the same cell had been detained in August 2006 on the Kazakh-Uzbek border, as a result of joint operations between the KNB and Uzbekistan’s National Security Service (Kazakhstan Today, August 25).
On August 21 four individuals were arrested in Kazakhstan and later charged with illegal possession of firearms, organizing violent assaults, and distributing propaganda to promote terrorism. The arrests occurred in various regions in Kazakhstan, according to Sattar Anarbayuly, an official in the Karaganda regional prosecutor’s office. These individuals were from a “Salafite group” suspected of links with Islamic militants and Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
What was unusual about this case, according to regional authorities, was that the suspects were allegedly planning violent acts against banks and prominent businessmen in Kazakhstan. Proceeds from their armed robberies were to be transferred to militant groups in various international “hotspots,” including Afghanistan. One suspect had already been tried in Russia for involvement in the Chechen separatist movement, while another was being prosecuted for attempting to illegally enter Afghanistan. The Karaganda prosecutor’s office has handed over its materials on the four detainees to the prosecutor’s office in South Kazakhstan Region, which is “currently investigating a similar criminal case against 10 people accused of a series of violent assaults and propaganda of terrorism” (Interfax, August 21).
The KNB is interested in Hizb-ut-Tahrir as a potential source of trouble, examining possible links between Hizb-ut-Tahrir and terrorist groups, but they also maintain a watchful eye on religious missionaries in the country. Religious missionaries are required by law to register with authorities, and there are more than 40 such missionaries operating legitimately in Astana. They are not suspected of engaging in unlawful acts and are not under routine surveillance by the KNB. However, the anti-terrorist center of the KNB in Astana suspects that foreign missionaries may attempt to gain citizenship in Kazakhstan and purchase real estate in order to found religious houses and schools. They interpret these activities as posing a plausible threat, since they could potentially form an alternative religious structure throughout Kazakhstan.
Moreover, the KNB wants to actively step up its efforts to counter extremist literature by informing students about the dangerous nature of extremism and terrorism. Therefore, the local KNB plans to publish reference books on this subject and distribute these to students in order to counter the activities of those seeking to widen the appeal of extremist interpretations of Islam. A KNB spokesman in Astana commented, “We need to bring home to everyone in villages the anti-human essence of terrorism and extremism. You know that complicated hearings are underway in Shymkent and Stepnogorsk. As for the question of how real the threat is, then one can say that the threat is significant. People who planned the crimes had prepared for them very thoroughly. A great amount of explosives, firearms, and literature of the same [extremist] content have been seized” (Khabar TV, August 28).
On August 1 a significant trial opened in Karaganda against members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Kazakhstan. A total of 30 individuals were indicted and the key figures in the case, K. Kamzin, T. Lebayev, B. Shaytiyev, K. Zhanabayev and Zh. Akkuliyev, have cooperated with the authorities. In particular, these former party members have called on existing members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir to renounce its ideology and abandon the party. Reportedly around 167 individual from Almaty, Astana, Zhambyl, Kyzylorda, Karaganda, and Pavlodar have responded positively to this request. They have surrendered to the authorities and no prosecutions have ensued.
Yerbol Sabdenov, born in 1983 in South Kazakhstan Region, became head of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Almaty in December 2006. He had been an active Hizb-ut-Tahrir supporter in Almaty region since 2000, and police have arrested him on numerous occasions for distributing literature. Sabdenov was arrested on July 31 and security officers seized leaflets, an iPod with recordings of propaganda texts, and also audio and video extremist propaganda. The KNB’s investigation directorate has now instituted a criminal case against Sabdenov under Article 164, Part 1 of the criminal code (Instigation of Social, Racial, Tribal or Religious Enmity), and Article 337-1, Part 1 (Participation in Banned Religious and Extremist Organizations on the Territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan).
Kazakhstan’s intelligence service believes these recent achievements suggest Hizb-ut-Tahrir is in disarray in Kazakhstan. Former members of the group cooperating with law enforcement agencies in Karaganda have consequently renewed their appeal to Hizb-ut-Tahrir members: “Surrender and you will be forgiven!” (Novoye pokoleniye, August 17). Meanwhile, the authorities are devising strategies aimed at countering the popularity of such movements among young people, while suggesting that Hizb-ut-Tahrir leaders are helping their efforts.