WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 653, July 24, 2011 INTERVIEW
WEST KAZAKSTAN UNDER GROWING ISLAMIC INFLUENCE Authorities need to stop confusing all practicing Muslims with radical minority, newspaper editor says. By Almaz Rysaliev INTERVIEW KAZAKSTAN'S ISLAMISTS: RADICALS OR SCAPEGOATS? Amnesty International expert describes effects of continuing campaign against anyone the government sees as potential subversive. By Saule Mukhametrakhimova SPECIAL REPORT KAZAK POLICE ELIMINATE "ISLAMIC" COP-KILLERS Real threat posed by Islamic radicals not as great as incident suggests, analysts say, although resentment of the authorities is widespread. By Almaz Rysaliev, Saule Mukhametrakhimova **** NEW ************************************************************************************ LATEST PROJECT REVIEWS: http://iwpr.net/make-an-impact/project-reviews VACANCIES: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia/central-asia-radio NEWS BRIEFING CENTRAL ASIA: http://iwpr.net/programme/news-briefing-central-asia CENTRAL ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia-human-rights-reporting-project STORY BEHIND THE STORY: http://iwpr.net/report-news/the-story-behind-the-story BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** INTERVIEW WEST KAZAKSTAN UNDER GROWING ISLAMIC INFLUENCE Authorities need to stop confusing all practicing Muslims with radical minority, newspaper editor says. By Almaz Rysaliev Kazakstan’s first suicide bomber and a group of armed men accused of killing two policemen all hail from the north-western Aktobe region, and are believed to belong to informal Islamic communities that exist outside the control of the state controlled Muslim clerical body. In mid-May, a man called Rahimjan Makhatov blew himself up at the local office of the security service in the city of Aktobe. In an unrelated incident at the end of June, two policemen were shot dead in the village of Shubarshi in the same region, sparking a manhunt that ended with 12 people dead. (For the full story, see Kazak Police Eliminate "Islamic" Cop-Killers.) Although the suicide attack and the conflict around Shubarshi do not appear to be directly linked, what they do have in common is that the individuals involved were known to be devout Muslims practicing their faith among their own circle, outside the mainstream mosques. IWPR asked Azamat Maitanov, deputy editor-in chief of the newspaper Akjayik in Atyrau, also in western Kazakstan, to describe the Islamic groupings that currently exert the most influence, and the ideas their supporters believe in. Azamat Maitanov: The information I have, for Aktobe region in particular and western Kazakstan more generally, is that there are a lot of followers of “jihadism”, a radical strand that regards holy war as the principal and supreme doctrine of Islamic ideology. What one needs to understand and distinguish is that there are several groups and communities in Kazakstan that bear similar religious features, but believe different things. Each of them has its own influential, local spiritual leader. The most well-known of these are Rinat Abu Muhammad, who has “Madkhalist” views [followers of Saudi Salafi scholar Rabi ibn Hadi al-Madkhali, critical of jihadi ideas]; Daryn Mubarov, a Kazak preacher of Murji'ism [Salafi doctrine advocating cooperation with rulers regardless of their failings]; and the North African Al-Rezki, a former veterinary student who has now left Kazakstan. Among those religious communities that are described as Salafi, speeches by Abdulkhalil Abdujabbarov, better known as Khalil, are popular. He spent several years officially teaching at a mosque in Atyrau, but is now wanted by Interpol and is in hiding in Saudi Arabia. Relations between these religious groups vary –some regard the others as brothers in faith, while others accuse the rest of losing their way, heresy and lack of faith. The Kazak authorities, security service and media generally lump together all groups whose religious practice and views differ from those of the official spiritual authority under the terms Wahhabi or Salafi. IWPR: How should we view the actions of the suicide bomber in Aktobe within the context of the radical Islamic ideas now prevalent in Kazakstan? Maitanov: Let’s take jihadism.... jihadi scholars have issued numerous fatwas giving clear instructions about how to wage war against infidels and against secular authorities whom they dismiss as “taghut” [false, alien to God]. There is, for example, a fatwa by Sheikh Abu Jandal al-Azadi, a jihadi ideologue in Saudi Arabia, giving permission to kill representatives of institutions that protect taghut. This fatwa… justifies the killing of police and other law-enforcement members associated with a secular government. All the jihadi dogma has been translated from Arabic and is widely available on the internet. Any Muslim seeking more knowledge may come across them and pick up on these ideas. IWPR: Apart from internet, what other channels are there for spreading radical Islamic ideas in Kazakstan? Maitanov: The nearest place to Kazakstan from which jihadi ideology emanates is the Russian Federation, and specifically the North Caucasus. One of the main ideologues of jihadism in the post-Soviet region is the preacher Said Buryatsky [Alexander Tikhomirov, from Buryatia in Siberia, killed by Russian forces in Ingushetia in 2010]. Buryatsky visited Kazakstan, notably Aktobe, and gave talks on several occasions. It’s been confirmed that Buryatsky met Kazak pilgrims during the Hajj in Mecca in 2006. It isn’t surprising that young people from Aktobe region should have been the first to go down the jihadi route. Young men around Makhatov’s age , went to the North Caucasus, where they believed an underground group of Caucasus Muslims was building a theocratic Islamic Emirate of Caucasus. The media regularly report the death or detention of Kazak nationals in the Caucasus, and most of them come from the Aktobe region. IWPR: You note that devout Muslims in Kazakstan follow a range of ideas. But isn’t there a distinction to be made between those with a radical agenda and those who are simply devout Muslims? Maitanov: There are groups that follow Islamic strictures in their daily lives and families – growing a beard, or wearing the Muslim headscarf or hijab, without trying to impose their beliefs on others. Others, though, call for the establishment of an Islamic state or caliphate, while some are waiting for a Messiah to unite all Muslims. They are wrongly referred to as Salafis or Wahhabis. If you ask any of them, they’ll say they follow Taza Din, the Pure Faith. IWPR: How would you describe Taza Din supporters? Maitanov: They were the first Muslims in western Kazakstan to be independent [outside the state-regulated mosques] and to follow Islamic rules in their community, but without imposing their views on others or calling for a caliphate. The group was swiftly subjected to persecution by the official religious body and the authorities. After several arrests and human rights abuses, [many] have been forced to emigrate to Europe. IWPR: How did radical Islamic ideas – as opposed to the moderate Hanafi school of Sunni Islam that is traditional in Central Asia – take off in Kazakstan? Maitanov: At the beginning of the Nineties, a range of Islamic ideologies began displacing the common form of Islam that had been tightly controlled by the Soviet state. They were brought in by volunteers [missionaries] from Turkey and Arab countries, who were made welcome in the former Soviet states. It was also at this time that the first students from Kazakstan went off to the Middle East, absorbed dogma that had been there for centuries, and brought it back home to elderly mullahs who practiced the traditional Hanafi rituals or Sufism. That led to the first debates and arguments about whether it was right to read the Koran for money [at ceremonies like weddings] or about what the right form of prayer was. These harmless debates subsequently grew into a confrontation [between traditional and incoming ideas] and led to persecution. Some gave up, and fell into line behind the Religious Directorate of Kazakstan Muslims, while others withdrew and began teaching the like-minded in their own homes. IWPR: The authorities reject the view put forward by human rights defenders that cracking down on followers of fundamentalist trends who worship outside the state-controlled mosques is fomenting radicalism among them. What’s your take on that? Maitanov: I’m profoundly convinced that it’s impossible to tackle religious extremism through punitive action. For example, the phrase [used by then Russian president Vladimir Putin] that [militants] should be “drowned in the toilet” has aggravated the problems Russia is facing in the North Caucasus, where a civil war is going on accompanied by monstrous violations of human rights. In Kazakstan, the current policy is intolerance and repression of dissent, persecution on the grounds of religious belief, and the fabrication of criminal cases. Mosque-goers are told they are “praying the wrong way”, and are forced into a straitjacket of invented rules. The authorities alienate devout citizens, violate their constitutional rights, attach labels to them, and arrest them for wearing a beard. For example, in the Isatay district of Atyrau region, the district government chief barred an imam from going to the mosque on the grounds that he was “not traditional”. The crazy bureaucrat posted policement outside the mosque and personally checked to ensure that only certain people attended Friday prayers. On top of all that, there are problems like inequality, unemployment and the complete corruption of the authorities. All this radicalises the views not only of the devout, but also of the average citizen. Personal faith is a delicate matter that cannot be measured by secular rules. Everyone’s relationship to God is an intimate and private affair. It is frightening that after killing off faith in common human values, the authorities are trampling on and trying to appropriate the final, most sacred thing – belief in God. This is creating fertile ground for the seeds of jihadism and of other kinds of religious extremism to grow. The first fruit are already in evidence, in the shape of Makhatov and the gunmen from Shubarshi. IWPR: What can you say about “religious” prisoners, whose numbers are believed by human rights groups to run into the hundreds? Maitanov: I think there are hundreds of these religious prisoners. What’s more, many of those convicted in connection with religious activity subsequently get additional jail terms. This practice has been described by Adiljan Muzdybaev, a former prisoner who belonged to a religious community in Mangystau [and was released in 2010 after five years’ imprisonment]. According to Muzdybaev, religious prisoners from across Kazakstan were brought together in one penal facility, No. 20, located in Jetikara in the [northern] Kostanai region in 2007. They were subjected to torture and degrading treatment, and forbidden to pray. All the religious prisoners were held in a prison used for life sentences. Subsequently, following complaints and letters, they were dispersed around different prisons. Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan. INTERVIEW KAZAKSTAN'S ISLAMISTS: RADICALS OR SCAPEGOATS? Amnesty International expert describes effects of continuing campaign against anyone the government sees as potential subversive. By Saule Mukhametrakhimova Recent events in western Kazakstan, a suicide attack and the a major security operation against an armed group – opened have sparked a debate on whether the harsh tactics used by the authorities are driving devout Muslims towards radicalism. In mid-May, a man blew himself up at the entrance to the local branch of the National Security Committee in the city of Aktobe. In an unrelated incident at the end of June, two policemen were shot dead in the village of Kenkiak, in the Aktobe region. This prompted a massive security sweep which ended with 12 people dead. In the latter case, the suspects were known to have been part of an informal Islamic grouping, though the extent to which this was a factor in their confrontation with the authorities remains unclear. (For the full story, see Kazak Police Eliminate "Islamic" Cop-Killers.) IWPR asked Maisy Weicherding, a researcher with Amnesty International’s Eurasia team, to comment on the extent to which the continuing crackdown on alleged Islamic activists has a causal effect on the growth of radicalism. Maisy Weicherding: It is true, of course, that in many countries the violent repression of political or religious movements has led to the growth and radicalisation of these movements. However, this has rarely happened in isolation – it is often accompanied by difficult socio-economic situations, unequal distribution of wealth, corruption, widespread poverty and youth unemployment. The killing of the two police officers may have been linked to a number of causes – maybe the killers had grievances against the officers because of threats, extortion or corruption, maybe they had a very personal family-related grievance, maybe it was linked to local organised crime. Indiscriminately blaming members of unregistered Islamic movements and Islamist groups for any violent events or crimes, and ill-treating and torturing them to make them confess, may be an easy way to fulfil crime targets, but it will also contribute to the radicalisation of their members in Kazakstan, as will the corruption of local officials, including security forces, the unequal distribution of resources and wealth and the failure of the state to provide equal access to education, health, social services and justice. IWPR: The Kazak authorities say the police have nothing against the average committed Muslim, and only go after radicals who brainwash young people in order to recruit them. What kind of harassment are members of Muslim groups most commonly subjected to? Weicherding: Because a number of Islamic movements and Islamist groups are either not registered or are banned in Kazakstan, any activities that members or followers undertake fall outside the scope of the law. And so, in the eyes of the security forces, they are committing an offence, often a criminal offence. Harassment takes the form of raids on unregistered mosques, the breaking up of prayer meetings, threats of violence or criminal prosecution against members or suspected members of unregistered groups and their families. Women often find that security forces will ask them to remove their hijab [Islamic dress] or remove it forcibly themselves. Amnesty International has received reports of beatings of men and women believed to be members of an unregistered group. The media often denounce members as terrorists or extremists prone to violence, with no evidence. Many of them lose their jobs if they are so identified. IWPR: What kind of Muslim groups are targeted by the police and the National Security Committee, and what do they get accused of? Weicherding: Among those most frequently targeted by the security forces in Kazakstan, Amnesty International has noted the Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir. Other groups targeted are members of various Salafi communities, Wahhabis, and members of the Ahmadi community. This is by no means an exclusive list. The official version is that members of these groups represent a serious threat to the constitutional order and structure of the country and to the security of the country’s citizens. These groups are portrayed as terrorist, extremist organisations intent on destroying the existing order and establishing a fundamentalist Islamist regime which would deny citizens fundamental human rights. IWPR: Human rights activists say that there are several hundred religious prisoners in Kazakstan and that the courts frequently hand down unjustifiably harsh sentences. What would you say about that? Weicherding: This corresponds to information that Amnesty International has received. We don’t have exact figures, but the numbers of individuals detained on charges of membership or suspected membership of Islamic movements or Islamist groups banned in Kazakhstan, and convicted of criminal activities linked to that membership, have been steadily increasing over the last decade. It is true that in many of the cases that Amnesty International has monitored over the years, members of banned Islamist groups or parties have been sentenced to long terms in harsh-regime prison facilities after blatantly unfair trials. For example, there was no presumption of innocence; often the media would quote security officials as saying the defendants guilty were even before the start of the trial. Most trials were closed to the public and no independent monitors were allowed into the courtroom. Often the families of the defendants themselves were not allowed in. Defendants alleged in court that they had been tortured to make them confess to the charges, yet no judge ordered investigations into these allegations, and in most cases the conviction was based solely on the confession of the defendant. IWPR: What allegations of abuse of “religious” prisoners have been recorded by human rights organisations, and what can be done to stop them? Weicherding: Some of the longer sentences entail lengthy periods of solitary confinement. Some prisoners will not be allowed visits or contact with their families for a year or more. Pious Muslim prisoners may not be allowed to pray in prison, they may be forced to clean toilets with their bare hands or do other jobs that are deemed unclean according to their religious beliefs. Families and human rights defenders have told Amnesty International that many are singled out for regular beatings, subjected to threats of sexual violence or to actual sexual violence, and are put in punishment cells more often than other prisoners One way to remedy the ill-treatment meted out to prisoners would be for the Kazakhstan authorities to be strict and thorough about implementing their international human rights obligations and about making sure officials who mistreat prisoners are identified and brought to justice. Increasing the mandate and resources – human, financial and technical – of the public monitoring commissions would enable them to visit prisons on a more regular basis. Unannounced visits would bring to light more of the abuses. Recommendations by these commissions should be mandatory. This would benefit all prisoners. IWPR: The authorities have expressed concern that the influence of Muslim groups is spreading in places of detention as a result of proselytising by prisoners. Is this true, and if so, do you know whether they are just trying to attract more followers of the faith, or recruiting new members of radical groups? Weicherding: A number of independent organisations, academics and human rights activists have expressed similar concerns about the growth of groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir in places of detention not only in Kazakstan but throughout Central Asia and in Russia. Whether the proselytising is about attracting followers of the faith or recruiting members to radical groups very much depends on who you ask. For many of the so-called “non-traditional” religious or faith-based groups, proselytism is an intrinsic and essential part of their creeds…. according to these groups, it isn’t a radical or subversive or indeed prohibited act, but part of their right to freely exercise the religion and belief of their choice. This is true of groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir as well as of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishna, Christian evangelist groups and others too. In the authorities’ eyes, proselytism is unlawful, a subversive anti-state activity, and individuals who proselytise – be it in places of detention or elsewhere - are [seen as] trying to recruit members to radical groups that are intent on undermining the constitutional order or on overthrowing the state. Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia editor in London. SPECIAL REPORT KAZAK POLICE ELIMINATE "ISLAMIC" COP-KILLERS Real threat posed by Islamic radicals not as great as incident suggests, analysts say, although resentment of the authorities is widespread. By Almaz Rysaliev, Saule Mukhametrakhimova A shoot-out between security forces and a group of armed men accused of an attack on police in the oil-rich west of Kazakstan has highlighted a little-reported issue – rising resentment of the authorities mixed with growing Islamic sentiment in the region, and a government apparently struggling to respond appropriately. Locals say the clash had more to do with specific grievances against the police than with an outbreak in Islamic militancy. But with a consensus that Islamic groups are growing in strength in this part of Kazakstan, some analysts believe heavy-handed police tactic are feeding resentment of the authorities, and could contribute to the rise of more extreme Islamic groups. A nine-day security operation to track down the killers of two policemen ended on July 9 with a clash in the village of Kenkiak, in the Aktobe region of northwest Kazakstan. Nine people inside a house were killed in a firefight that broke out when shots were fired from inside at police conducting a search of the village. One police officer also died, bringing to two the number killed since the operation began. Police eventually stormed the house and ended the siege. The nine included all six men placed on a wanted list in connection with the murder of two policemen in the nearby village of Shubarshi overnight on June 30-July 1. A spokesman for the police in Aktobe region, Almat Imangaliev, said the attackers drove up to a police checkpoint and opened fire on officers sitting in a car. Immediately after the attack, a substantial force of interior ministry troops equipped with armoured vehicles and helicopters were deployed in the area, but the suspects had already left Shubarshi and were hiding out in nearby reedbeds. Police offered a 100,000 US dollars reward for information leading to their capture. Ardak Kubasheva, a resident of Keniak, told IWPR that when the forces arrived in Shubarshi they searched the homes of the suspects and took some relatives away. Other villagers known to be devout Muslims were also detained for questioning and then released. There is some evidence that the murder of the two police officers was a revenge attack, rather than a random act of violence. A police source speaking on condition of anonymity told IWPR, “These [wanted] individuals are members of a radical religious group. They killed policemen who had taken part in detaining and questioning one of their fellow-members.” RISING TENSIONS Many people in the area saw the massive security operation as an overreaction, as the suspects were believed to have hunting weapons rather than military small-arms. But the authorities may have been driven to take stern measures as the attack on the policemen came only a few weeks after a suicide bombing in Aktobe, the first ever in Kazakstan. Rahimjan Makhatov blew himself up on May 17 inside the Aktobe offices of the National Security Committee. Three people were injured including two security service officers. Although many jumped to the conclusion that this was an attack by some Islamic extremist group, the authorities steered clear of describing the incident as a terrorist act. Instead, they painted a picture of Makhatov as a suspected criminal who opted to kill himself rather than go to jail. The case illustrates the somewhat paradoxical approach taken by the Kazak authorities – on the one hand, they talk about the dangers posed by Islamic groups that go their own way, but at the same time they are reluctance to dent the country’s image by suggesting there is a real terrorist threat – all the more so in western regions where many foreign oil companies have invested. RADICAL ISLAM ON THE MOVE Whatever Makhatov’s motives, the symbolism of a suicide attack followed by an armed attack by suspected Islamic militants is not lost on anyone. Both the government and independent commentators agree that radical strands of Sunni Islam have taken root in western Kazakstan. Where they disagree is on the causes of this trend, and on how to deal with it. In western regions of Kazakstan which include Atyrau and Mangistau as well as Aktobe, a fundamentalist strand of Islam has taken hold. Some of the groups refer to themselves as followers of Taza Din or “the pure faith”. Although they are Sunnis like most ethnic Kazaks, Taza Din followers say they adhere to the true tenets of Islam, and therefore keep themselves apart from Kazakstan’s religious establishment and do not pray in the mosques it controls. (For more on Taza Din, see Kazak Islamists Under Pressure.) Meyrambek Kurmanov, who heads a department in the Aktobe regional government that oversees religious groups as well as political parties, said the existence of such groups was a serious threat to national security. “In our region, they are actively recruiting young people into the ranks of the radicals,” he said. “Most of those recruited by radical tendencies are… young people between the ages of 14 and 30.” He said the authorities were trying to educate people about the risks entailed by this kind of activity, but were hampered by the fact that “there are very few educated experts on theology who are able to explain what’s right and what’s wrong”. Kurmanov said he did not believe Islamic missionaries from abroad were visiting western Kazakstan, and instead the main spread of ideas was probably via the internet. By contrast, Murat Telibekov, head of a group called the Union of Kazakstan Muslims, said he believed the Kazak Islamist groups were in direct contact with similar groups in the Caucasus, since they are separated only by the Caspian Sea. “There’s a stream of extremist literature and missionaries coming in from the North Caucasus,” he said. POLICE SEEN AS PROVOKING ANGER Many other experts argue, meanwhile, that the surge in interest in Islam can be attributed to local causes, ranging from economic hardship to a sense of powerlessness against mistreatment by the police. Andrei Grishin of the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law say radicalisation takes place when observant Muslims are persecuted and pressured and realise they cannot obtain redress through legal means. Grishin said there were no precise figures for the number of people convicted of crimes linked to Islamic radicalism, but that “it’s estimated that there are 700 or 800 [such] prisoners, given that every year a minimum of 50 people face charges of extremism and terrorism”. In the recent events in and around Shubarshi, Kubasheva said she knew some of the suspects, and while they were devout Muslims, they were not Islamic militants. “These guys have not committed criminal acts before,” she said. “They were unemployed and they went to the official mosques.” Attendance at an “unofficial” mosque – one not approved by the formal Muslim establishment in Kazakstan – is often seen as a marker for adherence to a more radical strand of Islam. Alima Abdirova, who heads the Aktobe-based group Aru Ana and has met many Islamists, said, “They [police] harass them and ask them why they grow beards and why they don’t attend state-registered mosques.” Many locals say the killing of the two policemen was direct retaliation for the interrogation of two men whose car was stopped on June 26 and was, according to police, found to contain a pistol and two sawn-off shotguns. According to Kubasheva, one of the men questioned returned home completely shaken up, prompting others to take action. IWPR put this concern to the police source, who said, “I don’t know whether he was harshly treated or not”, and added that harsh treatment was a “vague notion” that depended on one’s point of view. “But it goes without saying that suspects don’t get a pat on the head or offered a cup of coffee,” he continued. “We’re well aware of the mentality of bandits, and of how to communicate with them so as to get results. If we stuck to the etiquette, the crime-solving rate would be considerably lower than it is. We have own tried-and-tested methods for dealing with suspects… these methods work and help us not only solve but also prevent crime.” Others argue that far from dealing with the militant threat, heavy-handed policing breeds the kind of resentment that could drive radical but peaceful Islamists towards violence. Concerns about the police’s behaviour increased when a relative of one of the wanted suspects was shot dead by police on July 3, early on in the operation. Police spokesman Imangaliev said the man was killed after resisting arrest and trying to flee when police arrived at his house in Kenkiak following a tip-off. He said a hunting rifle, a religious pamphlet and money were found at the scene. Kanatov said he was surprised at this account, since the man was unarmed at the time when he was gunned down. “The authorities are behaving in a stupid way,” he added. The killing left eyewitnesses scared for their own safety. “People here are panicking, they’re in shock, they are scared.” Kubasheva said. IWPR’s police source insisted that observant Muslims who did no harm to others and were not plotting subversion were in no danger. “But when it come to members of radical organisations, as well as all those who want to overthrow the constitutional system through violence, harsh polices are needed.” He added, “If authorities show themselves to be weak and do nothing, the radicals will interpret this in their own way and will start expanding in earnest.” The police source suggested that Kazakstan was unfairly subjected to a different set of standards to those applied in western democracies. “Why can they detain men who wear beard and look suspicious, or kill Bin Laden and other armed religious fanatics, yet we have to respect their human rights here?” he asked. “Bandits don’t have rights; their only right is to be in prison.” Kurmanov, too, rejected allegations that Islamists were unfairly picked on by the police, and that this fed the process of radicalisation. “I don’t agree with that,” he said. “The authorities don’t exert pressure on members of religious groups. Quite the reverse, our legislation is too liberal… Our laws prohibit the state from interfering in religious matters.” In 2009, Azamat Karimbaev, who was seen as the informal leader of the Islamic community in Shubarshi, was arrested and convicted, with six others, of planning a terrorist act. He was given 17 years, but died in prison in December 2009. His widow Ayman said her husband’s only “crime” was to build a mosque for the village. The building was subsequently taken over by Kazakstan's official Muslim clerical establishment. Baktygul Kanatov, a lawyer who heads a group in Aktobe called For Justice, said he believed these harsh sentences would effectively put a stop to Islamic activity in the area. But he said that after the developments of recent days, he had come to believe the group would gain more supporters. SOCIAL PROBLEMS FEED SENSE OF INJUSTICE Although western Kazakstan should be one of the wealthier parts of the country given that most of the oil and gas industry is based here, many residents have not seen the benefits. Abdirova pointed to causes of dissatisfaction that are especially strong in the west – the contrast between low living standards of most residents and the profits made by oil and gas companies, widespread unemployment, and concerns about the environmental impact of the hydrocarbons industry. (See also Kazakstan's Unhappy Oil Workers on conditions on unrest in the industry.) She said the village of Kenkiak, for example, had a pall of smog hanging over it. “I’ve visited the area in winter and summer, and it’s difficult to breath there,” she said. “There’s been a case of water being poisoned, there is unemployment, the soil isn’t good and there’s no [drinking] water.” Abdirova said many young people found it impossible to get work, even if they had good qualifications. Jobs with oil companies are thin on the ground, as employers either recruit highly-qualified oil engineers or bring in workers from abroad. Kurmanov denied that social ills had contributed to the rise of more militant forms of Islam. “In our [western] regions, in particular, these factors don’t play a role. The social and economic situation is good, and there aren’t any problems of this kind,” he said. Once again, policing is an issue for the general population as well as those who engage in forms of Islamic activity frowned on by the authorities. “Our police don’t protect us,” Kanatov said. “You go and lodge a complaint; let’s say [a businessman] reports that he’s the victim of an extortion racket. Instead of helping, the police will side with those who’ve got money.” The police source dismissed such allegations of corruption, saying, “There are a lot of people who believe we are doing God knows what, that instead of catching murderers and thieves we are abusing the rights of law-abiding citizens, even torturing them. What torture is that – what are they talking about? “But when they face serious problems, they come to us asking for help.” On July 11, Kazakstan’s deputy interior minister Marat Demeuov announced that two more individuals suspected of involvement in the two policemen’s murder had been arrested. In the latest twist in the official account of events, he said the two men and the nine killed in a firefight had used Islamic ideas “as cover” for criminal activities - the theft of oil from pipelines running close to their villages. Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan. 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