Saturday, November 12, 2011


one thing we felt we could repeatedly reassure our friends and family last year when we were stuck in kazakhstan was that, despite all the other crap we had to deal with, at least we were physically safe. the country had little record of political violence and no history of terrorism. about six months ago, five months after we got out, that started to change. as i mentioned in may, there was a suicide bombing in aktobe and a (perhaps botched) car bombing in astana. after that, two officers were killed in a village in the aktobe region, and that was followed by a mysterious "security operation" in a nearby village also in the aktobe region. two weeks later, another police officer was killed in aktobe (city).

things then seemed to quiet down for a few months. then last month, the kazakhstani government passed a law that imposed restrictions on religion in the country, in part citing the threat of extremism. on october 21st, in response to the law a previously unknown group, jund al-khalifa, issued a statement in arabic threatening violence unless the law was repealed. on october 31st, the group claimed responsibility for a pair of blasts in atyrau (a city in western kazakhstan, in the country's main oil-producing region).

then a few days ago, two cops were killed in almaty, which put people on edge, but it wasn't clear whether it was related to the atyrau bombing, the police killings in western kaz earlier in the year, neither, or both.

today, a new incident struck even closer to home, or at least my home-away-from-home. a guy named m.k. kariyev killed the two kazakhstani security agents who had him under surveillance, and then went on a rampage, raiding a weapons store, killing the security guard and two customers, and then escaping with two semi-automatic rifles. he then hijacked a car and killed two officers who were pursuing him. after stopping at home to get a grenade launcher, he attacked the offices of the national security committee (the kazakhstani successor to the KGB), which resulted in a shoot-out. kariyev blew himself up in front of a "market", which my contacts in taraz tell me was the central food market on kazbek bi street. for anyone who knows taraz, the shooting that preceded the blast was in the vicinity of the corner of abai street and kazbek bi street--i.e. 1 block south of dostyk square (aka the central square with the statue of the guy on his horse), and about 2 blocks from where i lived for much of last year.

it's really crazy. so crazy that one of our good friends lives in an apartment building that is over the central food market. so when kariyev blew himself up he did so right outside her apartment building. so far, everyone i have been in touch with is okay, but there are witness accounts of many wounded. this was, quite literally, right in our neighborhood where we were based this time last year.

there's still more questions than answers. is this related to jund al-khalifa? (as far as i know they haven't claimed credit for it yet) are the attacks in the past few weeks related to the earlier attacks against police? or was it a spur-of-the-moment thing, when one particularly homicidal individual found out he was being tailed and went on a rampage in revenge. for what it's worth, one of my friends in taraz seems to be assuming it was an islamic fundamentalist, and the kaz government claims that kariyev was a "follower of jihad."

UPDATE: a photo of the site of the blast (via ДА):

i can't express how creepy it is that i know exactly where that was taken. the photograph was taken in front of the photo shop where we got all of our photo prints made. that's also where noz jr. got one of his passport photos taken.