Islamic Connection Ruled out in Kazak Blast

Police suggest mafia link to explosion after man dies, calming initial fears of Islamic insurgency.

Islamic Connection Ruled out in Kazak Blast

Police suggest mafia link to explosion after man dies, calming initial fears of Islamic insurgency.

An explosion in central Almaty initially raised fears that Kazakstan had been hit by a suicide bombing – but it quickly became apparent that the blast which left one man dead was not the work of Islamic radicals.

A man carrying a home-made bomb was rushed to hospital with burns and other serious injuries after the explosives went off on May 12, but he died later in intensive care.

Police ruled out any possibility that the dead man, in his early thirties and identified as Mikhail Nartov from the northern Akmola region, could have been associated with Islamic groups or that this was a suicide attack.

According to Kazak police, the blast happened outside the large Silk Road business centre. The bomb seems to have consisted of TNT packed into an envelope.

Although the investigation is still at an early stage, experts said the fact that the device was not packed with nails suggests that it was designed to kill a specific person rather than cause death or injury to a large crowd.

Police found an automatic pistol, fragments of a mobile phone and Russian banknotes, many of them torn and burnt, worth about 1,000 US dollars scattered around the scene of the blast.

The ground was littered with broken glass and pieces of torn clothes, and the entrance to the business centre sustained some damage.

One eyewitness, Andrei Shmulyov, told IWPR, “My company’s office is in the next street. The blast was so powerful that it triggered the anti-theft alarms on the cars parked in front of the office.”

Police said later that they had detained the driver of a Mercedes seen driving away after the explosion, and would be checking his identity and possible links with the incident.

For Kazakstan, the greatest fear would be a repeat of the attacks seen neighbouring Uzbekistan a month and a half ago. Shootings and reported suicide bombings left 47 people dead over four days of violence, most of it in the capital Tashkent. The attackers, and most of the dead, were said to belong to a radical Islamic group.

“The first thing that came to my mind was: is this an echo reaching us from the terrorist acts in Tashkent,” said Sergei Zhuravlyov, who was walking past when the explosion happened.

The police investigation is focusing instead on organised crime – either a contract killing, or a feud between criminal groups.

Almaty lost its status as Kazakstan’s capital in 1997, but it remains the country’s main commercial centre. Armed attacks are not common in the city, but when they do happen the link is always to organised crime rather than Islamic groups.

In February, a grenade went off in a cafe in the outskirts of the city close to the airport. No one was hurt. Last year, police foiled an attempt to blow up a major shopping centre by a bomb placed on its roof.

Eduard Poletaev is IWPR’s country director in Kazakstan.

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