Kazak Blasts Blamed on “Hooligans”

Police downplay fears of terrorist involvement in Almaty explosions but speculation is raging about the bombers’ true motives.

Kazak Blasts Blamed on “Hooligans”

Police downplay fears of terrorist involvement in Almaty explosions but speculation is raging about the bombers’ true motives.

Police in the Kazak city of Almaty are downplaying fears of Islamic militant involvement in explosions earlier this week outside the offices of the ruling Otan party.

Interior ministry officials are flying in from the capital Astana to head the investigation, but the two blasts on the evening of November 28 are so far being treated as the work of hooligans, not extremists.

However, despite police attempts to calm fears of foreign radicals operating on Kazak soil, the government announced November 30 it would tighten immigration controls.

Jazbek Abdiev from the labour and social protection ministry told a press conference that illegal immigration from elsewhere in Central Asia is a threat to national security, “as this is the environment where most radical representatives of Islamic organisations come from”.

The head of Almaty’s interior department, Moldiyar Orazaliev, said although he wouldn’t rule out terrorism in the Almaty explosions, the timing of the blasts – around 6:30 pm – indicated the bombers didn’t intend any serious threat to human life.

Two people were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Security has reportedly been tightened at city administration offices, television and railway stations and at the airport. However, Almaty itself seems largely unaffected with Mayor Viktor Khrapunov boasting the day after the explosion he met with city residents on the streets without bodyguards.

Orazaliev couldn’t say what explosive was used or how it was detonated, though experts speculated it was TNT. The bombs were placed in a windowsill outside Otan’s headquarters and in a unit containing telephone wiring near the building.

The blasts have given rise to a plethora of theories about who is responsible, including criminal gangs involved in a dispute or the authorities themselves attempting to exert greater control over the population.

The Otan leadership thinks the bombers are trying to destabilise Kazakstan.

“We believe that the incident cannot be called a mere act of hooliganism,” the party said in a statement. “We see this as an intentional act of provocation, not so much directed against the Otan party, but more of an attempt to destabilise peace and harmony in our country.”

The bombings took place only two weeks after the Kazak security ministry confirmed a group linked to al-Qaeda that has been blamed for recent blasts in neighbouring Uzbekistan is now operating in the country.

At a press conference November 12, deputy head of the ministry Vladimir Bozhko named the organisation as Jamaat of Mujahideen and said nine Kazak and four Uzbek members had been arrested. Islamists who trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan reportedly set up Jamaat two years ago.

The director of the Risk Assessment Group, Dosym Satpaev, told IWPR that the Kazak blasts were not an act of hooliganism but a warning by radicals.

“Why were there no victims? It could have sent a warning sign to the authorities of Kazakstan,” Satpaev said. “The people who did this achieved their main goal: they forced the entire country to put forward various points of view, and create a greater division in the country.”

Insiders say the apparent attempt by authorities to play down extremist involvement could be because they have information that has not yet been made public.

They may also be reluctant to face renewed criticism from their neighbours.

Uzbekistan and Russia have warned on numerous occasions that Kazakstan is being used to hide terrorists and as a transit route for moving them between Central Asia and neighbouring regions.

Andrei Chebotaryov from the National Research Institute said if the blasts are proved to be terrorist-related, it could damage Kazakstan’s reputation among its neighbours and establish conclusively that radicals are operating within its borders.

“For a long time Kazakstan has tried to position itself [in the region] as a country where there are no serious reasons for terrorism to emerge,” he said. “It is not easy for the authorities to acknowledge that there might be [desperate people with radical agenda] not content with their policies.”

Eduard Poletaev is the IWPR country director in Kazakstan.

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