Overview: Kazakhstan experienced two violent attacks in 2016, the first major deadly attacks since 2011. Government leaders classified both events as acts of terrorism and blamed external influence, although law enforcement investigations found no evidence of direct association with foreign terrorist organizations. Kazakhstan expressed interest in expanding counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, particularly in countering violent extremism (CVE). The government has long feared the potential return of foreign terrorist fighters from Iraq and Syria, but the June and July attacks re-focused government attention on home-grown violent extremists. The government amended counterterrorism legislation to better counter the threat, although analysts argued the government's repressive approach to CVE could backfire. Kazakhstan participated in the C5+1 regional cooperation framework between the United States and the Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), which includes a CVE-related program.
2016 Terrorist Incidents: On June 5, militants in the western city of Aktobe stormed a gun store and attempted to break into the armory at the National Guard barracks. The government said the attackers killed five civilians and three members of the National Guard. On July 18, a lone gunman attacked a police station in Almaty and a nearby office of the Committee on National Security (KNB), Kazakhstan's main security and intelligence agency, killing eight law enforcement officials and two civilians. The government was quick to identify both attacks as acts of terrorism and blamed the incidents on followers of Salafism. Government forces killed 18 alleged Aktobe attackers and detained nine others. Some of those initially sought by law enforcement as suspects were later cleared, and characterized as cases of mistaken identity. The government initially said the group was inspired by ISIS, although later reports suggested the influence was limited to online videos and propaganda. In November, the Almaty attacker told a court he committed the attack because "they do not live according to the laws of Allah."
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Kazakhstan has a comprehensive legal counterterrorism framework that includes provisions focused on CVE and foreign terrorist fighters. Provisions make it illegal for citizens to fight in foreign wars. The government takes a two-pronged approach to the few returning foreign terrorist fighters, pursuing rehabilitation for some, while arresting and prosecuting others. Alongside its regional partners, Kazakhstan participated in multilaterally-supported regional engagements to further develop standard operating procedures to counter emerging terrorist threats.
President Nazarbayev signed into law amendments to five legal codes and 19 laws on counterterrorism and extremism on December 22, 2016. Some of the amendments provide additional powers to security and law enforcement bodies, including simplifying procedures for conducting special search operations, granting security agencies increased control of visas and residency permits, and limiting the use of encrypted communications. Almost a fifth of the amendments simply add two years to sentencing rules in the criminal code. The amendments broadened restrictions on gun ownership and increased liability for gun store owners. An analysis from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, requested by the Parliament during discussion on the amendments, noted Kazakhstan's broad and vague legal definitions of extremism, which the new legislation failed to clarify, could lead to the arrest and prosecution for offenses not considered criminal by international standards. Local analysts criticized amendments that required homeowners to register guests who stay more than 10 days and a provision giving the government an internet and mobile phone network "kill switch" in the event of an "emergency," defined as everything from terrorist attacks to unapproved public rallies. Other amendments require government approval for production and dissemination of all religious literature and informational material and narrowed the personal use exemption for imported religious materials. They also call on Ministry of Religious and Civil Society Affairs to regulate religious tourism and oversee participation in the Hajj.
Law enforcement units demonstrated a strong capacity to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. The government responded to both attacks in 2016 quickly and prioritized protection of civilians in efforts to arrest the attackers. The government's counterterrorism plan allowed for enhanced interagency cooperation, coordination, and information sharing, but the extent to which this actually occurred remained unknown. There were four special counterterrorism detachments under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and one under the KNB. In advance of EXPO 2017 in Astana, security services have bolstered resources and capacity to protect soft targets.
Kazakhstan's Border Guard Service (BGS), part of the KNB, uses specialized passport control equipment, allowing officers to check for fraudulent documents. BGS officers received training by the State Department's Export Control and Related Border Security program to identify traffickers and terrorists, as well as K-9 unit training for counterterrorism operations. Kazakhstan remained a partner nation in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance program. In recent years, Kazakhstan has strengthened security on its southern border by adding radar systems, inspection equipment and vehicles, and specialized mobile inspection groups. The government proactively worked to prevent Kazakhstanis from traveling to fight abroad in Syria and Iraq, although authorities did not release specific numbers of total fighters it arrested in 2016.
Courts delivered numerous sentences for promotion of "extremism" and terrorism, militant activities in Syria, and recruitment and plotting terrorist acts. While the government does not release annual statistics of counterterrorism-related arrests, the deputy chairman of the KNB told Parliament in September the government had thwarted 64 terrorist plots in the past five years and convicted 445 terrorists, including 33 who had returned from conflict zones.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kazakhstan belongs to the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Kazakhstan's unregulated financial sector is relatively small. In 2016, Kazakhstan made improvements in compliance with FATF standards for the criminalization of money laundering and terrorist financing and was removed from the EAG's "enhanced monitoring procedures" list.
The government has passed legislation that criminalizes terrorist financing in accordance with international standards, mandating financial institutions to freeze known terrorist assets without delay. Kazakhstan's legal and regulatory framework does not explicitly detail freezing procedures for financial institutions.
The government monitors and regulates money/value transfer and other remittance services and requires the collection of data for wire transfers (i.e. requires originator and recipient name, address, and account number). Following passage of amendments to the Law on Payments in August, NGOs must submit financial reports on all foreign funds and assets received, as well as the activities they conducted with those funds. Additionally, authorities routinely distributed the UN Security Council ISIL (Da'esh) and al-Qa'ida sanctions list to financial institutions.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The government often pointed to foreign influence as a primary driver of violent extremism. Following the June and July attacks, President Nazarbayev and other officials asserted the perpetrators were adherents of radical movements who received instructions from abroad. However, some local experts asserted additional factors, such as criminal history, poverty, and lack of opportunity may have led to the attackers' radicalization.
Government officials and independent analysts publicly indicated that individuals in the prison system are vulnerable to terrorism recruitment, and noted many of the Aktobe attackers and the Almaty shooter had prior criminal backgrounds. In 2013, Kazakhstan adopted a five-year state program on fighting religious "extremism" and terrorism. This program is not the equivalent of a national CVE strategy, and the program relies heavily on the government-affiliated Spiritual Association of Muslims in Kazakhstan (SAMK) to promote "traditional Islam."
The government's CVE initiatives focus on preventing radicalization, with efforts to educate and provide alternatives to youth through social programs and economic opportunities. Initiatives to build rule of law and civil society are lacking, although the government funds several CVE-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In 2016, the newly-created Ministry of Religious and Civil Society Affairs was drafting a concept paper on how the government will engage civil society to counter "extremist ideologies." The Minister of Religious and Civil Society Affairs told a panel of religious experts that partnerships between civil society and government are the best approach to counter extremist ideologies. Religious experts from the Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) and in regional offices were directed to reach out to at-risk youth directly. The government and NGOs continued rehabilitation and reintegration work with individuals convicted of extremism-related offenses and their relatives, although the results of the nascent programs were still unclear. The government focused prevention efforts on detainment and prosecution of recruiters, and proselytizers sharing "extremist" ideas. Most convicted recruiters were placed in general-regime penal colonies for three to six years.
There does not appear to be a national counter-violent extremism messaging program, although religious leaders reached out to youth via websites such as E-Islam. Religious experts created groups on social networks such as Facebook and VKontakte, where they posted information and answered user questions about religious "extremism." CRA officials provided training for local imams, NGOs, and media. In addition, the government began a billboard advertising campaign warning Kazakhstanis not to become "pawns" of ISIS.
Regional and International Cooperation: The prosecutor general's office and the CRA cooperate with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on countering violent extremism and terrorism through workshops.
Kazakhstan participates in counterterrorism activities within the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which has established a joint task force for preventing the propagation of terrorist and "extremist" ideas online. Kazakhstan is a member of the Community of Independent States' (CIS) Anti-Terrorism Center, which hosts a data bank of banned terrorist and extremist organizations accessible to law enforcement and financial intelligence bodies of the member states.
According to press sources, President Nazarbayev and Kazakhstani officials discussed counterterrorism cooperation with numerous partners, including China, Japan, Russia, Turkey, and others, although there was little publicly available information about the specific aspects of this cooperation.
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