Suspected militants attack Kazakh guard base, kill six

ASTANA (Reuters) - Suspected Islamist militants killed six people at a national guard base and two stores selling firearms in the Kazakh industrial city of Aktobe on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said.

Four of the attackers were killed and seven detained by police in a counter-terrorist operation, ministry spokesman Almas Sadubayev said. Some remained at large, he said.

Sadubayev said police suspected the attackers were “followers of radical, non-traditional religious movements”, a phrase used in Kazakhstan, a mostly Muslim nation, to describe Islamist militants.

In near simultaneous attacks, the gunmen killed a clerk and a guard at one firearms store and then wounded three policemen who arrived at the site. At another firearms store, they killed a visitor before police arrived and killed three attackers.

A third group hijacked a bus and used it to ram the gate at the national guard base where they killed three servicemen before guards and police killed one attacker.

Sadubayev did not say how many people were involved in the three attacks.

A resident of Aktobe who asked to be identified only by his first name, Valery, told Reuters by telephone he had seen armed police from his balcony and heard a few gunshots.

“They were telling children playing outside to run to their homes,” Valery said, adding that he had also seen low-flying helicopters.

Valery received a text message saying a 10 p.m. (1200 ET) curfew was being imposed in the city.

“Right now, everything is normal,” he said about an hour after the curfew, referring to the absence of gunshots or other unusual noise.

Police shut down public transportation, malls and entertainment venues in the city after the attacks, which took place on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Aktobe, 100 km (60 miles) from the Russian border, was the site of Kazakhstan’s first suicide bombing in 2011 when a local man detonated an explosive device inside the building of the state security service.

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

However, the plunge in the price of oil, Kazakhstan’s main export, has threatened political and social stability in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation of 18 million.

Thousands of Kazakhs took part in street protests across the country in April and May which were triggered by a planned land reform but quickly became an expression of general discontent with the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in power since 1989.

Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Adrian Croft