Gunmen kill at least two policemen in attacks in Kazakhstan

An officer wraps up police tape at a street in Almaty, Kazakhstan. [Reuters]

Gunmen killed at least two policemen in Kazakhstan’s financial capital Almaty in three near-simultaneous attacks today (18 July), security sources and witnesses said.

The Interfax news agency, quoting a police source, said “a religious radical and probably a follower of non-traditional Islam” was shooting in central Almaty. The Interior Ministry said several policemen had been killed.

Five witnesses told Reuters they heard shots in three different parts of central Almaty, the mainly Muslim country’s biggest city.

Kazakhstan, an oil-producing nation of 18 million, is far more prosperous than its post-Soviet neighbours in Central Asia and has been ruled with a firm hand by President Nursultan Nazarbayev since 1989.

But it has seen rare outbreaks of violence and public protests since April, initially caused by discontent over proposed land reforms but swiftly attracting others unhappy about wider issues.

Police cordoned off several central streets in Almaty, including one near an office of the KNB security service, where shots were also heard.

“I heard one shot, most probably fired from a pistol,” said a man standing nearby.

The KNB said in a statement that unidentified gunmen had attacked a police station and a KNB office. The police said they had detained at least one suspected attacker, while another one remained at large.

The RIA news agency quoted a security source as saying several policemen had also been wounded.

A Reuters reporter saw a car that had been rammed by another vehicle in the same area where the detention had been reported to take place. The scene was cordoned off by police carrying assault rifles.

The KNB, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said last month it had detained several members of a group planning “terrorist acts using improvised explosive devices”, after a deadly attack in the northwestern town of Aktobe.

In that incident, about two dozen men described by the authorities as sympathisers of Islamic State, attacked gun stores and a national guard facility, killing seven people.

Security forces killed 18 attackers, some on the same day and some in the subsequent manhunt.

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