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Kazakh police kill five more Aktobe gunmen in raid after suspected Islamist attack

AKTOBE, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - Police killed five gunmen and detained two others in a pre-dawn raid in the Kazakh city of Aktobe on Monday after a suspected Islamist militant attack the day before on a national guard base and several firearms shops.

On Sunday, gunmen killed three army servicemen and three civilians before responding security forces killed 12 of the attackers and wounded six, the Interior Ministry said, in what was the deadliest such incident in the history of the oil-exporting Central Asian republic.

“During the search operation overnight, police killed five more criminals and two were arrested after resistance,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

State television aired photographs and read out the names of seven men it said were on the run from police on Monday hours after the early hours raid against what the ministry described as “religious radicals”.

“The identities of all the criminals involved in the attacks have been established. Measures are being taken to locate and detain them,” the ministry statement added.

“The situation in Aktobe is stable, businesses and public transport are functioning normally,” it said.

However, Kazakh authorities raised the “terror threat” level to yellow, the second highest designation, and the situation in Aktobe remained tense.

Beefed-up police squads at the airport wore helmets and bulletproof vests while Aktobe’s streets emptied due to a curfew. The Internet and automatic cash machines were out of order.

The ministry said the militants first attacked a firearms store in Aktobe, a northwestern Kazakh town with a population of 400,000 around 100 km (60 miles) from the Russian border.

They then split into two groups, one of which robbed another gun shop while the other stormed a national guard base.

Kazakh authorities often announce detentions and trials of Islamist militants, but most of them have been people who travelled or planned to travel to places such as Syria and Iraq. Violent clashes within Kazakhstan itself are rare.

However, the plunge in the price of oil, Kazakhstan’s main export, has threatened political and social stability in the former Soviet republic of 18 million people.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva; Editing by Mark Heinrich