By Yerlan Karin
In November 2011, tragic events took place in the southern city of Taraz and changed our perceptions of the reality of the terrorist threat.
On that day, one man kept an entire regional center in suspense for over three hours and used a grenade launcher, machine gun and pistols to shoot members of the law enforcement authorities and ordinary people who crossed his path. The incident could not be compared to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, a decade before in the United States or with the hundreds of innocent people, including so many children murdered at a Beslan school in Russia in September 2004. However, this kind of tragedy had never occurred before in peaceful and quiet Kazakhstan. It shocked public opinion and served as a wake-up call for the public in understanding the problems of stability and security.
Smaller outbreaks of terrorism had previously taken place in our country. In2011, disturbing news came from Aktobe, Shubarshi, Kenkiyank, Atyrau and Balkhash. However, in all these cases it was not completely understood what the causes of these localized outbreaks of violence were. Did they come from terrorist groups or just ordinary criminal gangs? In some cases, these questions still lack sufficient publicly released information to be adequately answered.
Questions remain over explosions in Atyrau two weeks before the attack in Taraz. Even though the Prosecutor General’s Office has acknowledged those explosions as an act of terrorism, the situation was not fully understood and it is still not known who carried them out and for what reasons. Therefore, for experts and the general public alike the question remains open, “Is there terrorism in the country or not?”
After Taraz,it became clear to many people that terrorism had become a real threat to our security. But citizens today have other questions: How is it possible that one man could safely plan and perform all those actions? Where could he get his weapons from – not just a simple penknife, but a whole grenade launcher? How could he hold off and defy a great number of security officers until Captain Baitassov stopped him at the cost of his own life? How capable is our national security system to counter the threat of terrorism? Who stands against us? What is the nature and extent of this threat? The first anniversary of the Taraz event once again gives us a good reason to readdress these issues.
Today, the national fight against terrorism has already become a daily reality. Over the past five years, 148 people were convicted of terrorist offenses in Kazakhstan, including 83 people who were condemned in 2012 alone. During those five years, other countries detained 41 Kazakhstan citizens who were suspected of involvement in terrorist organizations and illegal armed groups.
There is particular concern that nearly 70 percent of convicted terrorists are young people under the age of 29. Security officers have become the main targets of terrorists. In the last two years, nine of them were killed in terrorist attacks. In 2011, four law enforcement officers were killed while arresting terrorists and two members of Kazakhstan’s Arystan service were killed while conducting anti-terrorist operations.
In 2011, the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies underwent serious internal analysis and significantly revised their operating procedures. All cases of terrorism are now conducted by special prosecutors, and clear administrative divisions in the fight against terrorism and extremism have been established within the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Plans are being developed to set up anti-terrorism commissions in regions around the country to coordinate all preventive work done in them. The performance of the national intelligence service and other law enforcement agencies is being reviewed to streamline and improve its efficiency.
However, security officers still have to develop new parameters and algorithms to guide their work in the increasingly important field of information technology. Even before the events in Taraz, they had to struggle not only with real live extremists, but also with rumors.
Let’s recall at least the powerful acoustical wave started last year before Kurban Ayt, when almost all country succumbed to the alleged provocation on the upcoming celebration of mass child sacrifice. Then the rumors were disapproved, but with a long delay. And, it seems, then security officers together with other state agencies responsible for information policy began to reconstruct work and to develop a certain new algorithm of information work, but the situation with “Arkankergen” again opened a mistrust problem to official sources of information. The public information failures of the past two years have unfortunately confirmed the inability of official bodies and security officers to work in the information field. As a result, even highly successful special-forces missions this summer and autumn were criticized over the allegedly disproportionate use of force.
This kind of controversy can be harmful to national security: It turns into a kind of shadow-fighting, when security officers are distracted and forced to fight with imaginary opponents. Also, cyber-attacks by fictitious or almost nonexistent fantasy organizations such as the self-claimed “Soldiers of the Caliphate” can spread false rumors and needless anxiety and tie up security officers who need to be able to concentrate on more serious threats.
It is clear that Kazakhstan’s security officials still have much to do. But the fight against terrorism concerns not only them. The immediate causes and long-term socio-economic factors generating terrorism are far beyond the competence of security officers.
Kazakhstan’s national security services need to able to focus on improving the performance of their own agencies and prepare them to face new tasks because the character, scale and forms of threat of terrorism are always changing.
Recent terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan have displayed a planned and organized character. We are talking not just about random skirmishes with police patrols, as was the case before but bold actions against protected objectives such as the attack on the city police department in Atyrau.
Ordinary citizens have also become victims of terror. If we are to believe the official version, the Ministry of Internal Affairs says 12 people in Ile-Alatau National Park were killed by terrorists.
Some current terrorist gangs are separate autonomous groups without a permanent channel of financing. They come to the attention of law enforcement agencies when they commit banal criminal offenses in their need for money. In Atyrau in 2011, a group of terrorists was exposed after a failed robbery of a grocery store. Another terror cell was destroyed in July in Almaty as they were planning an attack on a business.
We must understand that terrorism is not a war, it is a virus of war. It is an attempt to force the state, society and the general population into perpetual confrontation with each other.
All the acts of terrorism of recent years and the special operations that have been launched to end and prevent them have slowly activated a hidden flywheel of war in the public consciousness. Now politicians and experts have started to talk in military terminology. But in our aspirations to eradicate this evil, it is necessary to remember that we should struggle not with the young people of Kazakhstan but to fight for them and for their future.
The author is a political scientist and the Secretary of the Nur Otan People’s Democratic Party.