Almaty: An Islamist militant killed seven people in running battles with security forces in a southern Kazakh city on Saturday, the latest in a series of attacks on the oil-producing state that was long seen as the most peaceful in Central Asia.
The prosecutor-general's office said a 34-year-old "follower of jihadism" killed four members of the security forces and two civilians in gun battles in the city of Taraz. He blew himself up when cornered, killing another policeman.
A string of blasts and shootouts, including one last month claimed by a hitherto unknown Islamist militant group, has unnerved the authorities and public of the former Soviet republic, a mainly Muslim nation of nearly 17 million.
A local resident of Taraz said that he heard the sound of explosions and gunfire in the centre of the city, about 550 km (350 miles) west of Almaty, Kazakhstan's financial centre and biggest city.
"We never thought that this kind of thing could happen here," said the resident, who did not want to be identified.
The prosecutor-general's office said a man it identified as MK Kariyev killed two members of the National Security Committee who had him under surveillance, before embarking on a spree of violence.
He raided a weapons store, killing a security guard and fatally wounding a visitor before escaping with two semi-automatic rifles, the office said.
It said the assailant hijacked a car and shot dead two policemen in pursuit, before collecting a grenade launcher from his home and shooting at the local building of the National Security Committee, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
The suspect later blew himself up when apprehended, killing a police officer who was attempting to disarm him. A further three police officers were injured in the attacks.
Television footage showed dead bodies lying on the street and police inspecting damaged cars. A semi-automatic rifle was visible on the front passenger seat of one car and an injured police horse was receiving treatment.
The Emergencies Ministry in Zhambyl region, of which Taraz is the capital, said it had no reports of any people wounded.
Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest and most successful economy, had until this year not witnessed the outbursts of Islamist militancy seen in other parts of the former Soviet region that lies north of Afghanistan.
Authorities officially ruled out any link to Islamist militancy when a man blew himself up in May at the offices of the National Security Committee in the northwestern city of Aktobe, killing only himself.
But after other unexplained shootouts and bombings, followed by the arrest of 18 people in the oil-hub city of Atyrau in August on suspicion of planning "acts of terror”, Kazakhstan adopted a new religion law last month.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan as a secular republic since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has backed the law -- which bans prayer rooms in state buildings -- as a means of stamping out religious extremism.
A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) threatened violence in a video message shortly before claiming responsibility for two blasts in Atyrau on October 31. The suspected bomber was killed.
The prosecutor-general's office said this week that the group was responsible for the Atyrau blasts and had linked up with a militant cell formed in 2009 to carry out the bombings.
The prosecutor's office said on November 09 that the Kazakh nationals who founded the group were hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
First Published: Saturday, November 12, 2011, 18:30